Breakthrough in Lithium Batteries

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Lithium-ion batteries have many interesting properties and uses, such as powering phones, electric saws, and electric cars. At the same time, they are also rechargeable. So, how do lithium-ion batteries work? The mechanism is similar to how other types of batteries work – inside the battery, there are two sites that store lithium. Lithium ions move freely through the battery which creates a current. This current then flows to the device that the battery is in to power it. With the added ability to be recharged, lithium-ion batteries are dominating the battery market. However, this technology is still in its infancy, as the first commercialized use of the product was in 1991. As a result, battery technology still has much potential. For example, researchers at Harvard University are attempting to create lithium-metal batteries. These batteries can last longer and recharge faster than normal lithium-ion batteries. If this new design is proven to be stable and can be commercialized, it will revolutionize the electric car industry as it increases the life of electric vehicles to 10-15 years, and make it possible for cars to fully recharge within 10-20 minutes. On the other hand, all these advantages that the lithium-ion battery provides come at a cost. For one, these batteries are difficult to recycle and create a large environmental impact. The most common way to recycle these batteries is through smelting. Using high temperatures, the batteries are melted and battery materials are reclaimed. However, this process is energy intensive, requires a large set of tools, and not all of the material can be recovered. The inefficient smelting process is often undesirable, and less than 5% of all lithium-ion batteries are recycled globally. Since recycling batteries for many manufacturers are not economically viable because of the sheer amount of equipment and energy needed to recycle, companies are looking into ways of making batteries last longer and improve charge capacity. With the advantages that lithium-ion batteries have over other types of batteries such as rechargeability, it is no doubt that lithium-ion batteries will continue to grow and thrive in the market. Even with the environmental concerns and issues that the battery presents, one can hope that in the future, lithium-ion batteries will be improved upon and become the most viable way to power devices.

References

Harman, S. (n.d.). How Does a Lithium-ion Battery Work? Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/how-does-lithium-ion-battery-work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2013). Better batteries through biology. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUVrUIV4xu4.

Burrows, L. (2021, May 13). Researchers design long-lasting, solid-state lithium battery. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/05/researchers-design-long-lasting-solid-state-lithium-battery/.