The power behind your smartphone, laptop, and virtually any rechargeable electronic you own is thanks to a Lithium-ion battery. Unfortunately, just as many other technologies of the past, it seems their days are numbered, and its just a matter of innovation before they eventually go obsolete. From high-profile battery fires to environmental concerns to the rising cost for it’s demand, has led some experts thinking of a much safer, more efficient, and less expensive means of powering our gadgets.
Related media: How Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Work?
What Makes Up A Battery
The basic battery is made up of two electrodes and some sort of electrolyte. Rechargeable batteries undergo a chemical reaction that lets charged particles (ions) in the positive end of the electrode (cathode) move through the electrolytes and into the negative end of the electrode (anode), where they stay and complete the circuit. The ions travel between the cathode and the anode to produce that energy.
In the case of a lithium-ion battery, the cathode is made of some sort of lithium-containing compound (typically lithium cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate), whereas the anode is made of carbon (graphite), and the electrolyte varies depending on the battery. All this makes lithium-ion battery super efficient, they don’t take up much space and can charge and recharge over and over without any wear-and-tear. Furthermore, they have a high energy density, which means they can store a lot of energy per unit of weight and volume.
Here’s the catch: lithium-ion batteries easily expand when they heat up, but thank goodness their made to resist bursting when they do. This has been the issue behind battery fires in most electronics; and their rise to fame has made them an eco-friendly power source of energy. According to Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium industry is expected to grow by nearly eight times in the next decade. If that sounds like good news, then mining materials for the production of lithium-ion batteries is less eco-friendly than you thought.
Here are four other elements that could potentially take lithium’s place in the future.
Magnesium is common than lithium, and isn’t prone to dendrites — that’s what makes lithium batteries catch fire. For decades, magnesium batteries couldn’t compete with lithium batteries for power and storage. In a 2018 paper, researchers discovered a “game-changing” solution to that problem: they realize it was the chloride-based electrolyte, so they tried a chloride-free version, together with a formulated cathode and a magnesium-based anode, and ta-da, they had a powerful magnesium battery than ever before.
Sodium is abundant in the ocean and might require safer means of extraction. But here’s the catch: its not easy swapping lithium-ion battery components for sodium. It has a larger ion than lithium, and wouldn’t fit between the carbon layers of lithium’s graphite-based anode, and they also have a lower energy density than lithium. Here’s the good news: in recent developments, phosphorous has proven to be a substitute for graphite in a sodium battery, and even has seven times the charge capacity per weight.
Fluoride batteries have the potential of lasting eight times longer than lithium batteries, but it’s easier said than done. This is because fluoride is an anion, a negatively charged ion, and the magic behind it’s higher energy density. This also make fluoride highly reactive and difficult to stabilize at room temperature. Also in another 2018 paper, researchers announced that they have discovered a liquid electrolyte that could stabilize the element at room temperature, but further studies would be required on how user friendly it is.
The compound that’s best used as a household cleaner is another candidate seeking to replace lithium batteries. If and only scientists are able to figure out how create it without its greenhouse byproduct, it could be converted to hydrogen and used to power fuel cells. This is because its energy density is twice as much as the liquid hydrogen. Fortunately, frontiers are making it possible to produce ammonia as a renewable, carbon-free compound that could soon be an eco-friendly resource.
Images: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Aug 20, 2019.