Saturday, December 16, 2017

Why the Future of Batteries Is Lithium, and Why Their Impact Will Be Bigger than You Think - by Gerard Reid

The tremendous advances being made in lithium battery technology are being underestimated by many people, writes financial energy specialist Gerard Reid. Competitive EVs are just a few years away. They will be followed by radical improvements that will have huge implications for air and ship transport as well. (Credit: Energy and Carbon blog) Click to Enlarge.
I constantly hear from people that batteries are just not good enough; that they are too expensive, that they cannot hold enough energy, that they take too long to charge.  In a nutshell, that they can never replace oil to power the automobile or be used alongside solar panels to power our everyday home needs.

The interesting thing is that I agree with all these criticisms.  However, I am also clear that these challenges will be solved in the coming years thanks to the usage of new chemistries and materials as well as intense competition between battery manufacturers.  I am also convinced that better batteries will lead to the electrification of not just cars but also trucks, buses, and increasingly air and sea transport.

At the same time, we will use these batteries in our homes, businesses, and grids as part of decentralized energy systems.  And all these batteries will be most likely based around the element lithium.

Better materials
Lithium is ... unique as a material in that it is very light, with the lowest reduction potential of  any chemical element, which allows batteries based on lithium to have unbeatable performance.  The other advantage is that there is lots of lithium out there, some 400 years of output according to the US Geological Survey

Energy Density (Credit: Alexa Capital) Click to Enlarge.
The most popular type of lithium battery is the lithium-ion battery, which, because of its unmatchable combination of higher energy and power density, has become the rechargeable battery of choice for power tools, mobile phones, laptops, and increasingly electrical vehicles (EVs).  That all said, there are many different types of lithium-ion battery.

And I don’t mean just different manufacturers such as Panasonic, LG Chem, CATL, and Samsung.  There are five major types of lithium-ion battery chemistry:  LFP (lithium iron phosphate), NMC (nickel manganese cobalt), NCA (nickel cobalt aluminum), LMO (lithium manganese oxide), and LCO (lithium cobalt oxide), all of which have differing strengths and weaknesses, and all of which are used in different applications.

NMC, for instance, is generally regarded as the chemistry with the most potential for use in the EV given its high performance, safety, and low cost.  And in the short term there is significant potential to reduce the cost and improve the performance of NMC batteries.

Currently, the standard NMC lithium-ion battery is called a 333 meaning it uses 3 parts nickel, 3 manganese, and 3 cobalt.  Going forward, we will see 811 NMC batteries which will use more nickel which increases performance and less cobalt which decreases cost.   However, none of these lithium-ion chemistries are going to provide the energy and power density required to power an airplane, so the search is on for better materials.

Read more at Why the Future of Batteries Is Lithium, and Why Their Impact Will Be Bigger than You Think

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