Clearly it is time for a change in the way that we generate electricity. The older means of noisy, polluting generators are no longer acceptable. New green approaches are expected as the new normal.
While wind and solar generators are still evolving, one of the more interesting aspects relates to the storage of electrical energy. The battery is on the cusp of great transformation and there are many contenders about to challenge the older battery technologies. So, I decided to investigate which emerging material has a huge potential to overtake the existing chemistries of Lithium Ion Batteries or which other technology can be an alternative for LIB.
Here are a few approaches being researched to make the battery better:
Lithium-ion batteries use toxic, heavy metals, such as lithium and cobalt, which can negatively impact the environment when they are extracted as well as disposed. Now, researchers from York University have discovered a way to make lithium-powered batteries more environmentally friendly, while retaining performance, stability and storage capacity.
Organic materials are a promising alternative to currently used inorganic metals, something that Professor Thomas Baumgartner and his team at York are busy developing. “Organic electrode materials are considered to be extremely promising materials for sustainable batteries with high power capabilities,” he says.
Their latest breakthrough is the creation of a new carbon-based organic molecule that can replace the cobalt now used in cathodes found in in lithium-ion batteries. The new material addresses the shortcomings of the inorganic material while still maintaining performance.
“Electrodes made with organic materials can make large-scale manufacturing, recycling, or disposing of these elements more environmentally friendly,” says Baumgartner. “The goal is to create sustainable batteries that are stable and have equally as good if not better capacity.
“With this particular class of molecules that we’ve made, the electroactive component is very suitable for batteries as it’s very good at storing electrical charges and has good long-term stability.”
Baumgartner and his group previously reported on the electroactive component in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. “We have optimized this electroactive component and put it in a battery. It has a very good voltage, up to the 3.5 volts, which is really where current batteries are now,” he says. “It’s an important step forward in making fully organic and sustainable batteries.”
Organic batteries sound like a concept from science fiction, but it’s exactly what Mercedes-Benz is calling a promising piece of technology, Autocar reports. These aren’t solid-state batteries that have been the holy grail for battery developers for quite some time; those rely on solid electrolytes instead of gel-like electrolytes in traditional lithium-ion batteries. Rather, organic batteries are composed of graphene-based organic-cell chemistry and contain a water-based electrolyte.
Andreas Hintennach, senior manager of battery research at Mercedes-Benz, recently indicated to Autocar that while solid-state battery research is moving ahead, those cells still have the disadvantage of long charging times, which makes them less suitable for automotive applications. Hintennach also suggested that another 25% of efficiency could be squeezed out of traditional lithium-ion batteries, which power the EVs of today.
But Hintennach was more optimistic about the potential of organic batteries in the long term over solid-state batteries.
“It’s a very promising technology. I’ve already seen it working in laboratories, where the results look really good, but we don’t see that it’s close to being used in production technology for now. It’s around 15-20 years away,” Hintennach told Autocar.
This battery technology was previewed recently in the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept, which showcased a number of technologies that the cars of the distant future could use.
Early tests show that organic batteries could be recharged quickly, making them appealing for use in cars, and that they have a high energy density. What’s more, this type of battery technology could permit the batteries to be recycled through composting, compared to the labor intensive and hazardous process of disposing of lithium-ion batteries.
OXIS Energy is developing an innovative Lithium Sulfur [Li-S] battery chemistry that will revolutionize the rechargeable battery market. With a theoretical energy density 5 times greater than Li-ion, OXIS patented Li-S technology is lighter, safer and maintenance free, and ready to meet the demands of tomorrow.
Sulfur represents a natural cathode partner for metallic Li and, in contrast with conventional lithium-ion cells, the chemicals processes include dissolution from the anode surface during discharge and reverse lithium plating to the anode while charging. As a consequence, Li-S allows for a theoretical specific energy in excess of 2700Wh/kg, which is nearly 5 times higher than that of Li-ion. OXIS’s next generation lithium technology platform offers the highest energy density among lithium chemistry: 450 Wh/kg already achieved at cell level.
OXIS Li-S scientists are constantly improving their Ultra Light cell. Within the next two years they aim to double the current cycle life to achieve upwards of 500 cycles.
Li-S production cost projections are significantly lower than Li-Ion due to lower raw material cost (i.e. Sulfur) and high energy density (less material required for same energy). This cost advantage is expected to be a key driver for widespread adoption of Li-S technology.
OXIS patented chemistry provides safety allowing it to meet certain international standards criteria in terms of abuse testing.
Thanks to its two key mechanisms, a ceramic lithium sulfide passivation layer and a non-flammable electrolyte, their cells can withstand extreme abuse situations such as bullet and nail penetrations with no adverse reaction.
Stanford researchers are designing new technologies to improve the cycle life and reliability of batteries, fuel cells and other grid-scale storage technologies. Scientists and engineers are testing a wide variety of promising, low-cost battery materials, including Prussian blue dye, nickel-iron and aluminum. Several labs are also working to improve solid oxide storage devices, conventional lithium-ion batteries and alternatives made with lithium-sulfur and other materials.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have shown for the first time that a cheap catalyst can split water and generate hydrogen gas for hours on end in the harsh environment of a commercial device.
The electrolyzer technology, which is based on a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM), has potential for large-scale hydrogen production powered by renewable energy, but it has been held back in part by the high cost of the precious metal catalysts, like platinum and iridium, needed to boost the efficiency of the chemical reactions.
“Hydrogen gas is a massively important industrial chemical for making fuel and fertilizer, among other things,” said Thomas Jaramillo, director of the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, who led the research team. “It’s also a clean, high-energy-content molecule that can be used in fuel cells or to store energy generated by variable power sources like solar and wind. But most of the hydrogen produced today is made with fossil fuels, adding to the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. We need a cost-effective way to produce it with clean energy.”
There’s been extensive work over the years to develop alternatives to precious metal catalysts for PEM systems. Many have been shown to work in a laboratory setting, but Jaramillo said that to his knowledge this is the first to demonstrate high performance in a commercial electrolyzer. The device was manufactured by a PEM electrolysis research site and factory in Connecticut for Nel Hydrogen, the world’s oldest and biggest manufacturer of electrolyzer equipment.
Whatever new emerging battery technology wins the days is yet to be determined. But there are lots of options being explored and the future looks promising.
Advanced Science News. (2020). One step closer to organic batteries. Wiley-VCH. Retrieved on April 9, 2020 from, https://www.advancedsciencenews.com/one-step-closer-to-organic-batteries/
OXIS Energy. (2020). Our cell and battery technology advantages. OXIS Energy. Retrieved on April 9, 2020 from, https://oxisenergy.com/technology/
Ramey, J. (2020). Mercedes Sees Big Potential in Organic Batteries, Report Says. Autoweek. Retrieved on April 9, 2020 from, https://www.autoweek.com/news/technology/a32031314/mercedes-sees-big-potential-in-organic-batteries/
SLAC. (2019). Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device. Stanford University. Retrieved on April 9, 2020 from, https://www6.slac.stanford.edu/news/2019-10-14-study-shows-much-cheaper-catalyst-can-generate-hydrogen-commercial-device.aspx
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.