We don’t often spend time thinking about how much of what we do is only possible because of advancements in batteries, but if there is a single human achievement that we can point to as being most responsible for the existence of modern portable vaporizers, it is the powerful, efficient, small, rechargeable batteries that exist today.
The lithium-ion battery that you use to vaporize your dry herbs was originally conceived of back in the 1970s. At first it was just an idea that seemed that it should work, but only with a lot of effort and experimentation, were engineers able to build a battery that actually functioned on the principle that the very volatile element lithium could accept an electrical charge, store it, then release it. For decades these batteries were far too bulky and dangerous for any commercial application. Starting in the early 90s rechargeable lithium batteries were making their way into the market, and by the early 2000s, people started to really make some breakthroughs in microstructures and chemical stability that created the direct ancestors of the batteries we use today. And those breakthroughs are impressive.
First there is the question of energy density. Consider how little your vaporizer battery actually weighs and how little space it takes up. Now, think about the amount of energy it takes to heat dry botanicals from room temperature to precisely 400 degrees in just a few minutes while at the same time powering coils, sensors, and digital displays, and then doing that dozens of times over several days. It’s quite a lot, considering the size, and that’s what we mean by “density”. The energy density of the battery in a modern personal vaporizer is a wonder.
Then, there is the comparatively small memory effect in state of the art energy storage. Many of us can no longer remember what it was like with the old style of rechargeable batteries, but their ability to hold a charge deteriorated pretty quickly depending on how you charged them. For example, if you got into the habit of putting your old nickel-cadmium powered cordless phone back on the charger after every phone call, it would “learn” that it only needed to hold enough charge for one conversation, and soon if you wanted to talk to grandma for more than 10 minutes, you were out of luck. That memory effect is so diminished with your lithium battery that you almost forgot what rechargeable batteries used to be like. Sure, that effect is still there a little, and the best practice is to let that charge run down a ways before plugging back into the wall socket, but it’s not that a big a deal today.
Lithium-ion batteries also have reasonably low rate of self-discharge. Basically, they don’t run out of juice when they’re just sitting around not being used. For example, if you have loaded the chamber of your dry herb vaporizer with your favorite blend, then forget about it on a shelf in your garage for the whole summer, if the batteries are still useable, then they haven’t self-discharged. If you’ve got good batteries for your vape, they’ll be more potent than the herbs after a couple months of being ignored.
Another neat thing about the batteries we take for granted now, is the way the exact function of the battery controls the size, shape, and structure. If you take a look at the disposable battery rack at a store, you’ll see the only sizes and shapes that were available for… a really long time anyway. Electric devices had to be designed around the batteries that existed, so everything was a compromise. Now a battery can be built to suit the use they’re being put to. They even come threaded so that you can screw a tank right onto them. Or plug and play into hundreds of adapters for different devices. But really, the ability to design the most ergonomic portable vaporizer possible, and then build a battery to fit it has been a game changer for users of botanicals and the industry that exists to support them.
So, we think it’s interesting now and them to take a moment and think about the little powerhouse in your hand, and how all the science and engineering and wisdom that went into putting it there changed the world.
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