Laptops, cellphones and the battle for battery life

When a laptop or cellphone dies in the middle of an unsaved term paper or during an important phone call, the frustration can make a student feel as useless as their empty battery. But students can do many things to their gadgets’ battery life — and it all begins with treating their laptops and cellphones with more care.

In order to treat electronics properly, users must have a better understanding of how they work.

The composition of a standard rechargeable battery can be boiled down to a simple explanation.

According to Paul Braun, a professor in materials science and engineering, the chemical reaction that occurs in a battery while it charges is reversed when that battery is in use.

The difference between the energy charged and the energy used is called the voltage. Today’s standard rechargeable battery is called a lithium-ion battery. Students carry these around every day in their cellphones and laptops.

A battery is best when it is half charged. Leaving a computer plugged in for days will not cause the battery to overcharge or damage the computer because laptops today have circuitry built in to keep batteries from getting too much energy.

“If you want to extend the life of your battery, set your computer so it stops charging at 90 or 95 percent charge,” Braun said.

However, if a computer is left with zero charge for a long period of time, the battery can be permanently damaged.

In order to get the most uses out of a rechargeable battery, it should be kept in between uncharged and fully charged. This includes phone batteries.

It can be frustrating when a screen full of unused apps causes a phone to die, even after an entire night plugged into the wall. In order to keep phones and laptops from dying quickly, students must monitor their usage.

Steve McManama, assistant manager at Verizon Wireless, said that screen back lighting is a major battery drainer. Turning down the brightness is an easy way to conserve energy.

For cellphones, which have smaller batteries, McManama explained that it is necessary to charge phones as often as possible.

“It’s not a matter of conserving battery life, it’s a matter of having charging options available to you all the time.”

Portable chargers are now available, which makes phone charging a simple and easy task.

The more high-tech a phone is, the faster the battery power drains. An older model cell phone can last for days without having to be plugged into the wall, while an iPhone might not last through the afternoon.

Students can conserve energy on their smartphones by using a “task manager” to constantly close unused apps that drain power. Another tip for smartphone owners is to change how often a phone syncs to an email account.

Though students’ most-used appliances may use rechargeable batteries, many small household items require lead acid batteries, which are limited to one-time use. These can be found at the store in various forms, like AA or AAA.

Research associate professor Deb Errede suggested that users put batteries in the refrigerator to extend their lifespan. This slows the internal chemical reaction.

While there are many small things students can do to extend the lives of their batteries, further research and development is the key to longer-lasting batteries.

“There’s a lot of work going on worldwide on making batteries that hold more energy,” Braun said.

This means that future cellphone and computer batteries could last much longer.

“There are a number of people who are looking at things that would double or triple capacity,” he said.

According to Braun, these developments may be seen in a few years — which would mean a lot less frustration and a much longer-lasting battery.