Editor's Note: Get involved in rechargeable battery recycling this week with Call2Recycle! They're working to recycle 1 million pounds of batteries by Oct. 1 - see what you can do to get involved.
It's no surprise that, like all technology, the ways in which we power our gadgets are becoming smarter, sleeker and more sustainable.
Battery technology especially continues to improve in the rechargeable sector, where users can stand to save serious cash and environmental resources by utilizing longer-lasting power sources.
Significant funding is also being spent to develop better rechargeable technologies, because of their huge play in automotive, defense and safety sectors.
For example, Mercedes-Benz announced this year its plan to spend $2.8 billion during 2010 and 2011 on battery and green technologies.
Let's take a look at a few of the most exciting (and, in some cases, just plain odd) ways rechargeables are evolving:
Yeah, you read that correctly. Viruses powering rechargeable batteries.
MIT researchers are developing lithium-ion battery technology that use a harmless virus - the M13 bacteriophage, for all you science lovers out there - to create a lightweight, flexible and multi-purpose battery. These scientists are hoping to create a battery that can be molded into any shape, and may even potentially be woven into clothing.
The biggest perk is that this technology could provide serious benefits to everyone from soldiers carrying high-tech military equipment to travelers who are overburdened by their tech.
"The batteries, once woven into clothing, could provide power for a range of high-tech devices, including handheld radios, GPS devices and personal digital assistants," said Mark Allen, Ph.D. "They could also be used in everyday cell phones and smart phones."
Currently, the U.S. military is slated to be the first to use the technology during its testing phase on unmanned aerial surveillance drones.
"Using M13 bacteriophage as a template is an example of green chemistry, an environmentally friendly method of producing the battery," Allen added. "It enables the processing of all materials at room temperature and in water."
Ever angrily shaken your cell phone after a particularly nasty conversation or taken it on a run while you listen to your favorite tunes? In the future, these actions may actually recharge your device.
Earlier this year, the Nokia Corporation filed a patent for a battery for an electronic device that converts kinetic energy into usable power.
Lovingly called the "Piezoelectric Kinetic Energy Harvester" (don't even ask us how to pronounce the first word), the battery uses similar principles already employed in kinetically powered wristwatches.
"By allowing the heavier internal components to move on rails within the phone as part of a 'force-transferring assembly,' the Espoo think tank has figured out a way to capitalize on all the small forces of acceleration and rotation that we subject our phones to on a daily basis," writes Engadet's Vlad Savov.
Nokia does not claim that at this point the battery could fully recharge the phone, but we think it would certainly be helpful in a pinch.
The swap-out battery
While this particular type of rechargeable is still in concept form, we think this potential future battery deserves a second glance.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming a reality in the consumer market. In fact, J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting predicts that annual sales of EVs will reach 2 million by 2020.
However, a stopping point for many potential drivers is the limited mileage that one charge can provide. While 150 miles, for example, is excellent for a typical commuter, what about longer drives and road trips?
One possibility is the potential to utilize "switch stations" - a replacement for the traditional gas station, where drivers can simply exchange their spent battery for a fully juiced replacement.
The concept is currently being investigated by Better Place, a firm that has already raised more than $700 million for research and development of these stations.
In fact, a system testing project launched in Tokyo earlier this year in partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, along with Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator.
According to Better Place, "The complete [...] solution integrates charge spots, in-car software, operations centers, cars, and batteries, in addition to switch stations, all managed as an intelligent network."
The here and now
While most of these innovative ideas are still far out on the horizon, there's plenty you can do to make the most of your rechargeables now. And, when it's time for a new battery, whether you're upgrading your cell phone or swapping out for an updated battery model, it's simple and easy to recycle your rechargeables.
Recycling them at their end of life is key to preventing pollution, and it recaptures valuable metals, acids and even plastics.
Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Call2Recycle is one of these partners.