Nowadays, lithium-ion batteries of various sizes are used in everything from smartphones to electric vehicles. For their manufacture, huge capacities are involved, and, nevertheless, experts advise preparing for an inevitable shortage, provided that current technologies are preserved.
The external battery market is expected to reach $25 billion by 2022. Dozens of companies are trying to create a new type of battery: to improve its energy capacity and lifespan. The main goal is to make sure that the battery charges in a few seconds and have enough charge for the whole day because most consumers believe that battery life is one of the main characteristics of a smartphone.
Why is there a need in replacing lithium batteries?
A lithium-ion battery is one of the key elements of modern electronics, which has many nuances of use and disadvantages: the substances in the composition are poisonous and flammable, and the batteries swell, discharge in the cold, and eventually lose their capacity.
At the same time, it is impossible to fundamentally change the operation of lithium batteries due to chemical and physical characteristics. Therefore, today scientists, startups, and large companies are looking for ways to reinvent them or switch to completely new designs.
In addition to developing new batteries technology, scientists are also focusing on improving the performance of existing batteries in order to increase their service life. For example, physicists have found that promising, but short-lived lithium-air batteries can be made more tenacious if an ultrasound generator is built into them. It will not allow pores and defects to form in their electrodes. Such a study was published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.
Should we wait for the battery revolution?
Rather, in this industry, revolutionary inventions are not planned. The fact is that the invention of lithium-ion batteries was the apogee of the evolution of chemical batteries.
So, lithium is a metal with limiting characteristics: it has the lowest mass, the lowest electrode potential, and the highest current load, which makes it the most optimal for the production of batteries.
Lithium is also the best cathode active substance on earth. The use of other cells can improve one performance and inevitably degrade another, and many scientists and developers of new types of batteries confirm this. That is why experiments with lithium batteries have been going on for 30 years. By combining materials, among which there is always lithium, researchers create types of batteries with the desired characteristics, which are very narrowly used.
So the next time you read about new batteries technology and the energy revolution, it is important to understand that new batteries have some challenges and limitations that need to be addressed, which will probably take a lot of time and effort.
Future of lithium batteries
While scientists and companies are looking for new energy storage solutions, lithium remains a popular material for producing batteries.
Since lithium is dangerous, its amount in a lithium-ion battery does not exceed 2%. If pure lithium could be used, it is quite certain that the energy capacity of the battery would increase tenfold. Ionic Materials founder and CEO Mike Zimmerman may have found a way to use pure lithium in batteries. In his opinion, the key problem lies in the electrolyte. There has been a recent trend towards using gels and polymers instead of liquid electrolytes, but they are mostly flammable. Ionic Materials have created an inexpensive, flexible, and durable polymer that is conductive at room temperature. The company hammered nails into batteries, shot them with firearms, and cut them with scissors, but the batteries did not burn.
Zimmerman also believes the new polymer will enable the use of pure lithium and accelerate the introduction of lithium-sulfur and lithium-oxygen batteries to the market. But the future may not lie with lithium, as batteries based on carbon and based on silicon and sodium, zinc, and some other materials are already being developed.
Lithium-ion batteries remain the most popular energy storage form and are widely used all over the world. However, many large companies and researchers are looking for new solutions that are more energy-intensive, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly. However, despite the abundance of alternative new batteries technologies, lithium batteries are still ubiquitous, so it is still too early to say that their era is over.
More than ten years have passed from the invention of stable lithium-ion batteries to the start of their serial production. Perhaps one of the next pieces of news about a breakthrough power source will become prophetic, and at some point in the future, we will say goodbye to lithium and the need to charge phones every day. But so far, it is lithium-ion batteries that are driving progress in wearable electronics and electric vehicles.