Lighter, More Powerful Batteries

July 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm 1 comment

The cutting edge in consumer batteries are the so-called “lithium batteries” found in electronic devices and (higher-priced) electric vehicles. The selling point of a lithium battery is the punch it delivers, the fact that it can be recharged, but most of all, its light weight, a feature that stems from the fact that, atom for atom, lithium is one of the lightest substances in the universe. (In fact, lithium is atom #3 on the periodic table. Only hydrogen and helium are lighter.)

Lithium, however, is only half the story as far as lithium batteries are concerned. When a lithium battery discharges (or charges), electrons move between lithium and some other substance, and there’s the rub, finding a companion substance with all of the right properties, including light weight. “Getting There” (Science, 24 June 2011, p. 1494) reports on the latest research advances in “lithium” battery technologies (from 4th Symposium on Energy Storage: Beyond Lithium Ion held at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, June 7-9), including “lithium ion”, “lithium sulfide” and “lithium air” batteries.

The sidebar on Battery FAQs makes for some interesting reading:

“Why is lithium so often used in batteries?

Lithium is the lightest metal and has the highest energy density for its weight.

Is there enough lithium to make batteries for millions of cars a year?

in 2005, roughly 21,000 tons of lithium was produced worldwide. More than 6 million tons of lithium reserves are thought to be economically viable to recover. Twice that amount exists in forms not economically viable to recover today. An analysis presented at the meeting by Paul Albertus of the Robert Bosch Research & Technology Center in Palo Alto, California, suggests there will be plenty of lithium over the near term, through the next 15 years. It’s only in the long term, 40 to 50 years from now, that the lithium supply could get tight. Other elements, such as cobalt, could pose a bigger problem, depending on the chemistry of the batteries produced.

How will widespread adoption of electric vehicles affect CO2 emissions and possible climate change?

It won’t, unless the electricity used to power those cars is generated by renewable energy sources. But even if the electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants, many of which exist in rural areas, urban emissions of smog-forming particles could still drop dramatically.”

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Entry filed under: In the News.

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