Batteries are the New Semiconductors
Semiconductors, also called integrated circuits (ICs) or microchips, are the brains of modern electronics. Over the past 50 years, they have driven a rapid pace of innovation to produce exponentially more advanced products at lower cost. Semiconductors are a foundational technology for virtually all areas of our economy. They have enabled advances in computing, communications, health care, military systems, transportation, clean energy, and many other applications.
Developments in semiconductor technology have made electronic devices smaller, faster, and more reliable. An example of this is the evolution of modern computing platforms. The introduction of integrated circuits drove development and evolution of mainframe and mini computing platforms in the 1960s and 1970s. The commercialization of the microprocessor in the 1970s drove the development of early personal computers, which led to one on the desks of many office workers during the 1980s. In the 1990s, the modern laptop enabled mobile computing, and by 2008 it had overtaken the personal, desktop computer in shipments. In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, which established a new standard for handheld computing and communications, and just three years later, in 2010, the smartphone overtook the personal computer in shipments.
A single smartphone today has far more computing power than the computers used by NASA to land a person on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. This rate of innovation is possible because semiconductor development follows Moore’s Law, which stated in 1965 that the number of transistors on a microchip will double about every two years. The following graph documents the legacy of Moore’s Law through advancements in microprocessors from 1970 to 2020.
Starting with the introduction of the laptop computer and accelerated by the explosive proliferation of the smartphone, computing and communications today are overwhelmingly mobile. While the semiconductor remains the brains of modern, mobile electronics, the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is now its heart. And without a strong, dependable heartbeat, the brain can’t function at its full capacity. But since its commercialization in 1991, the Li-ion battery has struggled to keep pace with the semiconductor’s rate of improvement.
The rate of performance improvement from a Li-ion battery, measured in energy density, has increased an average of 4.36% per year. Our goal at Enovix is to introduce to the market a battery cell with a step-change increase in energy density that will put us years ahead this rate of growth.
The next major computing and communication platform is wearable. The smartwatch is one example. Another is augmented reality (AR). Speaking about AR, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said, “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.” Apple is not the only company that thinks AR is huge; Facebook, Microsoft, and Snap also have major development programs.
If companies can make the technology reliable and lightweight enough, AR could eventually replace smartphones as the primary mobile platform. For this to occur, AR glasses must get smaller, lighter, and more powerful. And Li-ion batteries will need to provide more energy capacity in a small-size, lightweight format.
Advanced battery development and production today is analogous to semiconductor development and production in the 1980s. Without a vibrant semiconductor industry, U.S. progress in emerging industries such as wireless communications, multimedia, and personal computers would have been hampered, damaging the broader economy. Today advanced battery development and production is strategic to other critical emerging technologies such as next-generation mobile platforms, electric vehicles, and energy storage systems.
As mobile computing and communication devices continue to become smaller and faster with more features and functionality, the pace of innovation will no longer be governed solely by the semiconductor, but more and more by the battery. Metaphorically, batteries are the new semiconductors.