The Battery Series
Part 1: The Evolution of Battery Technology
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand, and future applications.
Introduction to The Battery Series
Today, how we store energy is just as important as how we create it.
Battery technology already makes electric cars possible, as well as helping us to store emergency power, fly satellites, and use portable electronic devices.
But tomorrow, could you be boarding a battery-powered airplane, or living in a city powered at night by solar energy?
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores how batteries work, the players in the market, the materials needed to build batteries, and how future battery developments may affect the world. This is Part 1, which looks at the basics of batteries and the history of battery technology.
Batteries convert stored chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Batteries have three main components:
(-) Anode:The negative electrode that gets oxidized, releasing electrons
(+) Cathode: The positive electrode that is reduced, by acquiring electrons
Electrolyte: The medium that provides the ion transport mechanism between the cathode and anode of a cell. It can be liquid or solid.
At the most basic level, batteries are very simple. In fact, a primitive battery can even be made with a copper penny, galvanized nail (zinc), and a lemon or potato.
The Evolution of Battery Technology
While creating a simple battery is quite easy, the challenge is that making a good battery is very difficult. Balancing power, weight, cost, and other factors involves managing many trade-offs, and scientists have worked for hundreds of years to get to today’s level of efficiency.
Here’s a brief history of how batteries have changed over the years:
Voltaic Pile (1799)
Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, in 1799, created the first electrical battery that could provide continuous electrical current to a circuit. The voltaic pile used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper for an electrolyte.
His invention disproved the common theory that electricity could only be created by living beings.
Daniell Cell (1836)
About 40 years later, a British chemist named John Frederic Daniell would create a new cell that would solve the “hydrogen bubble” problem of the Voltaic pile. This previous problem, in which bubbles collected on the bottom of the zinc electrodes, limited the pile’s lifespan and uses.
The Daniell cell, invented in 1836, used a copper pot filled with copper sulfate solution, which was further immersed in an earthenware container filled with sulfuric acid and a zinc electrode.
The Daniell cell’s electrical potential became the basis unit for voltage, equal to one volt.
The lead-acid battery was the first rechargeable battery, invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Planté.
Lead-acid batteries excel in two areas: they are very low cost, and they also can supply high surge currents.
This makes them suitable for automobile starter motors even with today’s technology, and it’s part of the reason $44.7 billion of lead-acid batteries were sold globally in 2014.
Nickel Cadmium (1899)
NiCd batteries were invented in 1899 by Waldemar Jungner in Sweden. The first ones were “wet-cells” similar to lead-acid batteries, using a liquid electrolyte.
Nickel Cadmium batteries helped pave the way for modern technology, but they are being used less and less because of cadmium’s toxicity. NiCd batteries lost 80% of their market share in the 1990s to batteries that are more familiar to us today.
Alkaline Batteries (1950s)
Popularized by brands like Duracell and Energizer, alkaline batteries are used in regular household devices from remote controls to flashlights. They are inexpensive and typically non-rechargeable, though they can be made rechargeable by using a specially designed cell.
The modern alkaline battery was invented by Canadian engineer Lewis Urry in the 1950s. Using zinc and manganese oxide in the electrodes, the battery type gets its name from the alkaline electrolyte used: potassium hydroxide.
Over 10 billion alkaline batteries have been made in the world.
Nickel-Metal Hydride (1989)
Similar to the rechargeable NiCd battery, the NiMH formulation uses a hydrogen-absorbing alloy instead of toxic cadmium. This makes it more environmentally safe – and it also helps to increase the energy density.
NiMH batteries are used in power tools, digital cameras, and some other electronic devices. They also were used in early hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.
The development of the NiMH spanned two decades, and was sponsored by Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen AG. The first commercially available cells were in 1989.
Sony released the first commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991.
Lithium-ion batteries have high energy density and have a number of specific cathode formulations for different applications.
For example, lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2) cathodes are used in laptops and smartphones, while lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) cathodes, also known as NCAs, are used in the batteries of vehicles such as the Tesla Model S.
Graphite is a common material for use in the anode, and the electrolyte is most often a type of lithium salt suspended in an organic solvent.
The Rechargeable Battery Spectrum
There are several factors that could affect battery choice, including cost.
However, here are two of the most important factors that determine the fit and use of rechargeable batteries specifically:
Think of specific energy as in the amount of water in a tank. It’s the amount of energy a battery holds in total.
Meanwhile, specific power is the speed at which that water can pour out of the tank. It’s the amount of current a battery can supply for a given use.
And while today the lithium-ion battery is the workhorse for gadgets and electric vehicles – what batteries will be vital to our future? How big is that market?
Find out in the rest of the Battery Series. (Parts 2 through 5 will be released throughout the summer of 2016).
Visualizing the World’s Top Social Media and Messaging Apps
From Twitter to TikTok, this infographic compares the universe of social media and messaging platforms by number of monthly active users.
The Social Media Universe in 2022
For a time, life in the social media universe was mostly uneventful. Consider these spicy (at the time) headlines:
- Even President Obama Thinks That Facebook Isn’t Cool Anymore (Techcrunch, 2014)
- Jack Dorsey Returns to Twitter as Chief, to Shrugs and Quips (New York Times, 2015)
- Instagram’s new stories are a near-perfect copy of Snapchat (Mashable, 2016)
In hindsight, the years leading up to 2016 were downright sleepy in comparison with what would follow. Donald Trump’s meteoric, tweet-powered rise to the presidency. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Congressional hearings on privacy and bias. TikTok at the center of souring U.S.–China relations. Each new day brought a fresh wave of controversy the shores of once infallible social media platforms.
Today, the honeymoon phase is long over and the messiness of running a global social platform is now on full display. Nowhere is this more evident than Twitter during the current Elon Musk transitional period—but more details on that later.
For now, let’s explore the social media universe in 2022.
Mapping the Social Media and Messaging Universe
In 2022, the social universe is looking more crowded than in previous years.
The scale of Meta’s platforms still dominate thanks to their global reach, but there are a number of smaller networks fighting for market share. Here’s a look at popular platforms, organized from largest to smallest active userbase:
Meanwhile, here are the top 10 social media and messaging platforms by publicly-available monthly active users:
|Rank||Platform Name||Parent Company||Primary Function||Monthly Active Users|
|#1||Meta Platforms||Social network||2.9 billion|
|#2||YouTube||Alphabet||Video content||2.3 billion|
|#3||Meta Platforms||Messaging||2.0 billion|
|#4||Messenger||Meta Platforms||Messaging||1.3 billion|
|#5||Meta Platforms||Video content||1.2 billion|
|#7||TikTok||ByteDance||Video content||732 million|
|#9||Douyin||ByteDance||Video content||600 million|
YouTube is the only true competition for Meta’s scale and reach. Alphabet’s video content hub with social features boasts more than two billion monthly active users. YouTube’s embrace of the creator economy is nudging the platform further into pure social media territory with the introduction of “handles”.
As seen in the visualization above, China has its own ecosystem of large social and messaging platforms—the largest of these being WeChat.
The only platform in the top 20 that is not based in either the U.S. or China is the privacy-focused messaging app, Telegram. The Dubai-based company has a unique backstory. It was created after the founders of Russian social network VK left the country after resisting government pressure to release data on the social network’s users in Ukraine.
Today, there are also a number of smaller, special interest platforms. OnlyFans, for example, is focused on adult content creators. Parler and Truth Social appeal to users who want fewer constraints on the content they post and consume. BeReal aims to create more authentic moments by prompting users to post a photo at a random time each day.
Below, we dig into a few of these platforms into more depth.
Big Trouble in Little Metaverse
Having a figurehead CEO is a double-edged sword. When things are going well, the market rallies around the successful leader. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. Even as recently as 2016, Glassdoor named the Facebook founder the “most admired tech CEO”.
On the flip side, when the tide turns, it turns fast. After a series of controversies, Zuckerberg took a multi-billion-dollar gamble by renaming his entire company Meta and pivoting its focus to the burgeoning idea of a metaverse. Meta’s New Horizons platform is rumored to have plateaued at about 200,000 active users, which is underwhelming for a company that still reaches a sizable slice of humanity with its other services.
Part of Meta’s near-term success hinges on VR headsets being a hot gift this holiday season. Meta’s cheapest headset is $400, which could be a tough sell in today’s economic environment.
Of course, it’s too early to know whether Zuckerberg’s gamble will pay off. As always, all is forgiven once a business unit takes off and becomes profitable.
Microblogging with Macro Expectations
Twitter has a complicated history.
The company was launched in the shadow of Facebook’s massive growth, and was saddled with expectations that were tough to meet. Although Twitter has an engaged and influential audience, it hasn’t managed to monetize them at the level of Meta’s platforms (for better or worse). The introduction of Twitter Blue in 2021 did not resonate with users at the scale the company hoped, and “fleets” were essentially written off as a failed experiment.
In addition, Twitter is a magnet for criticism and debate around free speech, in part because of its central place in political discourse.
These issues are directly related to the company’s recent sale to Elon Musk. At the time of this article, Twitter finds itself in the midst of a painful, and very public, internal restructuring.
Social media has always been dominated by Facebook and its related apps. When a new challenger came along, Facebook either acquired it (Instagram, WhatsApp), or “acquired” their features (Snapchat). TikTok is the first challenger to keep its momentum and growth, even as Instagram rolled out very similar features.
TikTok is also a rare case of a Chinese tech product crossing over into Western markets. The ascendancy of TikTok was not without controversy though. Suspicion over Chinese access to user data continues to be an issue both in the U.S., and in other large markets around the world. TikTok has been banned in India since 2020.
Despite these headwinds, TikTok remains wildly popular. The short-form video platform was the number one downloaded app on the planet, and it remains a favorite of the all-important Gen Z demographic.
We Shall Surveil
In recent years, neighborhood-based social networks have sprung up and gained traction. NextDoor used physical letters sent to adjacent addresses to supercharge its growth, while Neighbors piggybacked off the popularity of Ring’s doorbell cameras. Although members post about more benign topics such as lost cats and where to find a good plumber, crime is an increasingly common theme as well.
Apps like Neighbors and Citizen have a more overt focus on crime and safety. While the growth of these apps reflects an obvious interest preventing crime, critics point out that the ubiquity of personal surveillance equipment and forums built purely around public safety promote a culture of suspicion in communities.
This type of social network is still quite new, so it remains to be seen if they remain niche communities, or grow into something bigger.
Chaos and Opportunity
It was Sun Tzu who famously said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”.
This is the risk and opportunity in the social media universe today. With their massive networks and high switching costs (e.g. personalization, library of existing posts), the largest platforms have created moats that make life hard for upstart brands looking to replace established platforms. On the other hand, controversy on platforms like Twitter and Facebook may cause some users to consider new options.
The multi-billion-dollar question—is dissatisfaction with major platforms temporary, or will emerging networks like Mastodon or BeReal hit critical mass and become new staples for people connecting online. Time will tell.
Visualized: FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet
As Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX files for bankruptcy, this graphic visualizes FTX’s balance sheet leaked by the Financial Times.
Visualizing FTX’s Balance Sheet Before Bankruptcy
In a difficult year for the crypto space that has been full of hacks, failing funds, and decentralized stablecoins going to zero, nothing has compared to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) rapid implosion.
After an astronomical rise in the crypto space over the past three years, crypto exchange FTX and its founder and CEO SBF have come crashing back down to earth, largely unraveled by their misuse of customer funds and illicit relationship with trading firm Alameda Research.
This graphic visualizes FTX’s leaked balance sheet dated to November 10th, and published by the Financial Times on November 12th. The spreadsheet shows nearly $9 billion in liabilities and not nearly enough illiquid cryptocurrency assets to cover the hole.
How did FTX wind up in this position?
How FTX’s Bankruptcy Unfolded
FTX’s eventual bankruptcy was sparked by a report on November 2nd by CoinDesk citing Alameda Research’s balance sheet. The article reported Alameda’s assets to be $14.6 billion, including $3.66 billion worth of unlocked FTT and $2.16 billion of FTT collateral.
With more than one-third of Alameda’s assets tied up in FTX’s exchange token FTT (including loans backed by the token), eyebrows were raised among the crypto community.
Four days later on November 6th, Alameda Research’s CEO, Caroline Ellison, and Sam Bankman-Fried addressed the CoinDesk story as unfounded rumors. However, on the same day, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) announced that Binance had decided to liquidate all remaining FTT on their books, kicking off a -7.6% decline in the FTT token on the day.
Back and Forth with Binance’s CZ
While Ellison publicly offered to buy CZ’s FTT directly “over the counter” to avoid further price declines and SBF claimed in a now-deleted tweet that “FTX is fine. Assets are fine.”, FTX users were withdrawing their funds from the exchange.
The next day, the acquisition fell apart as Binance cited corporate due diligence, leaving SBF to face a multi-directional liquidity crunch of users withdrawing funds and rapidly declining token prices that made up large amounts of FTX and Alameda’s assets and collateral for loans.
FTX’s Liabilities and Largely Illiquid Assets
In the final days before declaring bankruptcy, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried attempted a final fundraising in order restore stability while billions in user funds were being withdrawn from his exchange.
The balance sheet he sent around to prospective investors was leaked by the Financial Times, and reveals the exchange had nearly $9 billion in liabilities while only having just over $1 billion in liquid assets. Alongside the liquid assets were $5.4 billion in assets labeled as “less liquid” and $3.2 billion labeled as “illiquid”.
When examining the assets listed, FTX’s accounting appears to be poorly done at best, and fraudulently deceptive at worst.
Of those “less liquid” assets, many of the largest sums were in assets like FTX’s own exchange token and cryptocurrencies of the Solana ecosystem, which were heavily supported by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. On top of this, for many of these coins the liquidity simply wouldn’t have been there if FTX had attempted to redeem these cryptocurrencies for U.S. dollars or stablecoin equivalents.
While the liquid and less liquid assets on the balance sheet amounted to $6.3 billion (still not enough to equal the $8.9 billion in liabilities), many of these “less liquid” assets may as well have been completely illiquid.
Relationship with Alameda Research
When looking at FTX’s financials in isolation, it’s impossible to understand how one of crypto’s largest exchanges ended up with such a lopsided and illiquid balance sheet. Many of the still unfolding details lie in the exchange’s relationship with SBF’s previous venture that he founded, trading firm Alameda Research.
Founded by SBF in 2017, Alameda Research primarily operated as a delta-neutral (a term that describes trading strategies like market making and arbitrage that attempt to avoid taking directional risk) trading firm. In the summer of 2021, SBF stepped down from Alameda Research to focus on FTX, however his influence and connection with the firm was still deeply ingrained.
A report from the Wall Street Journal cites how Alameda was able to amass crypto tokens ahead of their announced public FTX listings, which were often catalysts in price surges. Alongside this, a Reuters story has revealed how SBF secretly moved $10 billion in funds to Alameda, using a bookkeeping “back door” to avoid internal scrutiny at FTX.
While SBF responded to the Reuters story by saying they “had confusing internal labeling and misread it,” there are few doubts that this murky relationship between Alameda Research and FTX was a fatal one for the former billionaire’s empire.
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