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What Is a Lithium Ion Battery?

Lithium ion (also called “Li-ion)” batteries are known for being powerful yet compact, and are particularly useful for gadgets like cellular phones or laptops. They are a vast improvement from the nicel cadmium (also called “Ni-Cad”) batteries used several decades ago.

Lithium ion batteries were first introduced to the market in 1991, by electronics giant Sony. As gadgets became smaller and more portable, developers had to look for a light yet reliable battery. Lithium, being one of the lightest metals, was the logical choice. In fact, it was used as early as the 1970’s in simple gadgets like watches, but could not be charged because of the metal’s tendency to be unstable.

However, Sony was able to finetune the technology, by finding a way to use only the lithium’s ions (hence the name). Though the power was limited, it still outperformed nickel cadmium batteries by 200%.

Lithium ion batteries offered another advantage to consumers. New developments that combined nickel and metal did not have a “memory effect” where it had to be fully discharged before being charged one again. However, to improve performance, it is recommended that lithium ion batteries be charged frequently. If the gadget reflects lower charge capacity, it is because the battery gauges must be recalibrated.

This does not mean, however, that lithium ion batteries have unlimited lifetimes. In general, manufacturers recommend changing batteries after 3 years, since the batteries will expire regardless of how much they have been used. For gadgets that are not frequently needed, it is ideal to store the battery in a cool and dry area.

Featured in Technology