Processors are more powerful and cheaper by the year. Your hard drive? Same story. More bang for your buck over time.
These facts are repeated so often it’s the background mantra chanted by technorati like Hare Krishnas. Instead of repeating the recitation of “Om mani padme hum,” it’s “Faster, cheaper, better.”
However, ask anyone in tech what’s holding the industry back and batteries always come up. Batteries are the dirty little secret of tech. While comparisons are made to a modern processor being the equivalent of a 747 that can travel around the world on a gallon of gas at the speed of light (or some other like exaggeration), portable battery power is the glacier in a room full of drying paint while the grass is growing.
But the light at the end of the tunnel might be powered by unlikely technology players: James Dyson and Sakti3. You know James Dyson (or Sir James, if you’re English) as the guy who makes the eponymous vacuums. What you might not know is that he’s often compared to Steve Jobs when it comes to being an innovator and inventor. Sakt3…who you probably know from nowhere, unless you’re a serious engineering or materials science fanboy.
Dyson’s made a $15 million investment in Sakti3, a battery manufacturer. Dyson really believes in this company, the way Nikola Tesla believed he was in love with a pigeon — only Dyson makes more sense.
Rather than using liquid electrolytes, Sakti3 is working on sold state batteries, which can pack more energy into the same space as older batteries. Some estimates place Sakti3’s solid state batteries as being able to store twice the electricity as today’s lithium ion batteries. Dyson believes the company is the real deal.
Solid state batteries are modern-day mithril — an expensive and exotic technology. According to The Wall Street Journal, a solid state battery for a smartphone would run $15,000 and powering an electric car with one would run in the neighborhood of $90 million.
However, Sakti3 is working on getting getting the price of production for a kilowatt-hour down to $100 (lithium ion batteries, for comparison, run $250 to $500 per kilowatt-hour). If Dyson’s investment pays off and if Sakti3 can produce solid state batteries and if they can scale up their production, the consequences are mind-blowing. Smartphones that go days without charging. Electric cars that are truly competitive with current gas-burners.
Is Sakti3 right? Did James Dyson just suck away $15 million into a hole? Will serious engineering and materials science fanboys finally have their day?
With all things, only time will tell.