Battery technology has come a long way over the past couple of decades, thanks in large part to the spread of lithium-ion technology. Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight, rechargeable, and capable of providing the sort of current required to power a hammer drill, a hedge-strimmer, or even an electric car. You’ll find a range of batteries and chargers available from sites like RS Components – but exactly what form do they take, and how might they change in the future?
What’s Lithium Ion and how does it work?
In a lithium-ion battery, the charge is created by the movement of the eponymous lithium ions from the positive to negative electrodes via an intermediary substance called an electrolyte. While the battery is charging, the positive electrode surrenders its ions, which move across to the negative side. While the battery is discharging, those ions move in the opposite direction. Negatively-charged electrons won’t move through the electrolyte; they instead flow around an outer circuit in the opposite direction.
For all of the advantages of this technology, there are still challenges to be overcome. Not least of these is scarcity. Lithium has not been subjected to considerable demand as yet – but as fossil fuels are gradually phased out, we might expect to see prices rise. Moreover, lithium-ion technology is expected to hit a performance ceiling as cell designs cannot be made any more efficient. Consequently, alternatives will need to be sought. But what might these alternatives actually look like?
What Are The Alternatives?
So what will eventually replace, or at least support, Li-Ion? Several candidates stand out as promising, not least of which are new and improved versions of Li-Ion that provide superior performance thanks to engineering tweaks.
In theory, Lithium-sulphur should be able to provide four times the performance of Li-Ion, as the energy density is much higher. The downside is that lifespan is limited, and batteries tend to discharge by themselves. These drawbacks might feasibly be overcome by solid-state electrolytes, which avoid these problems.
A solid-state battery is one that doesn’t contain liquid, but which nevertheless allows the transmission of ions from one side to the other. This confers several key advantages. Firstly, it means that batteries can be made safer. They won’t ignite when heated, and they won’t spill corrosive liquid when damaged. Secondly, they’re lighter and denser, which means superior performance in applications where weight is an issue – automobiles being a major case in point.
Improvements in battery performance are certain to play a critical role in shifting the automotive market away from traditional fossil fuels, and towards electric vehicles. One of the major obstacles to this shift is a lack of infrastructure and the range-anxiety that goes with it. After all, no-one wants to be stranded miles away from the nearest charging station. But if a single charge could take a vehicle thousands of miles, this concern would evaporate – and a major step would have been taken in the battle against climate change.