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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Innovations Are Rocking The Battery Industry

Battery packs

The battery world is a fascinating place to be right now. There is so much innovation going on as the world sets course towards a battery-powered future. The difficulty for observers is knowing what is a legitimate breakthrough and what is just hype that will never be commercialized.

Still, some undeniable trends have emerged, and chief among them is that lithium ion battery improvements are nearing their limit. This is a natural development. It was bound to happen, especially given the pace of improvement in this dominant type of battery over the last decade or so.

The main problems with Li-ion batteries remain: relatively high cost, insufficient energy density in a context of ever-higher energy density demand, and safety issues because of the liquid electrolyte these batteries use. The batteries of tomorrow seek to solve these problems, and some battery researchers report success (although these alternatives have yet to enter the commercial production stage that would prove they could compete with the Li-ion hegemon).

One of these alternatives is a battery that uses silicon for the anode instead of graphite, increasing the energy density of the battery. In an overview of the latest in batteries for The Enterprise Project, Stephanie Overby quotes energy researcher Chloe Holzinger from Lux Research as saying, “Silicon offers a potential tenfold increase in capacity over incumbent graphite, leading to a higher specific energy. Higher specific capacity could result in lower costs if material costs are not too high.”

Yet this particular improvement is currently focused on consumer electronics, as is a lot of battery innovation, such as Ionic Materials’ solid polymer battery that addresses the liquid electrolyte issues of lithium ion batteries, chief among them flammability. Speaking to CNBC recently, the CEO of the company, Mike Zimmerman, said in addition to eliminating the flammability problem, the Ionic Materials batteries, featuring a polymer for an electrolyte, are also more durable and have a greater capacity than their chief competitor. These batteries do hold promise for EVs and energy storage as well as consumer electronics, as long as the cost is low enough; and it will be, Ionic Materials says. Related: The Death Of Algal Biofuel

In other news, another company, NantEnergy, last month announced a breakthrough: the cost of its air breathing zinc battery broke the US$100 per kWh barrier and will now begin to be deployed on a large scale. The latter part of this announcement is the significant one: there have been lots of reports about the battery of the future but all of them have come from the lab. If someone’s talking about large-scale deployment, then there may be something to this battery that’s being talked about. In this case, it is a battery that uses air for a cathode and zinc for an anode, which means it has a much lower carbon footprint than lithium ion batteries and is safer.

Then there are the sodium ion batteries that recently got their first commercial deployment at a sewage pumping station in Sydney. With sodium being cheaper than lithium, this type of battery has been a natural competitor despite the fact that it has significantly lower energy density than lithium ion batteries.

With all this said, lithium-containing batteries are yet to be dethroned. Innovation may be reaching its limits in this area, but it’s not there yet. The latest here is nanotubes. Researchers from Rice University recently reported the addition of a coating of nanotubes to the anode of a lithium metal battery prevents the so-called dendrites from forming and ultimately killing the battery. These dendrites, or metal whiskers, have been a major obstacle for the wider adoption of lithium metal batteries. With that solved, they might get a serious push, which will be good news: lithium metal batteries are more energy dense than their li-ion cousins.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com


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  • Kay Uwe Böhm on October 29 2018 said:
    Lithium world reserves 16 000 000t too less for all driving only battery cars and some percent for political show effect nonsense
    like solar panel, wind power and bio agrar end result BRD world master gas import & brown coal nr. 6 oil & stone coal import.

    CNG is secure burning clean makable out of H2O electrolyse H2 and air CO2 exotherm reaction cheaper than fracking with new zero risk atomic power and new turbines addable 700bar system like for H2 system.

    New RBN-Th pebble bed HTR zero risk all cases and cheap. RBN is white diamond cubic boron nitride about 100$/kg isotopes B-11 and N-15 latest lucky 1/100 absorption of C-12 graphite for only ThO2 30 years pebble runtime and endstorage hard up to 2800°C unburnable & insoluble open secure
    just baking nuclear fuel powder into BN
    in new compact secure HTR construction with tungsten reflector walls all around 1.6m rib steel low melt concrete double tungsten steel wall inside Li-7 cooled bindig also tritium etc. to turbines, 1s double stop and overheat self slow down with Th232.

    New turbines not using wasting condensor EPR Siemems 67% for environment heating but cntrifugal compressor like for earth gas and cooling all surfaces, generator etc. with decoupled CO2 backflow same preheatung thermal isolated only electricity out steam pressure 5.73 MPa 20°C for low tenperature like glas green house in desert cooled but delivering energy not wasting any water drop condensed out with CF compressor there hot cooled with CO2 for new turbines.

    Originator only kayuweboehm@yahoo.de
  • Randy Bryan on October 30 2018 said:
    This battery article highlights the most recent [few weeks] battery announcements. There are others that have happened in the last few months that bear recognition.
    Tesla says their Li-ion cells will cost under $100/kwh by the end of the year [<3% cobalt] and their battery packs will cost under $100 in 2-3 years time. Battery costs under $100/kwh is generally when the cost of an electric drivetrain equals or betters a combustion drivetrain and when battery buffers for renewable electric power sources become fully competitive with combustion generation... That's huge. Most other battery makers [20-50% cobalt] will take years longer to achieve the $100/pak number [2025 is the accepted date], since cobalt is costly and difficult to replace. Look for more silicon nano structures to replace cobalt. Battery costs have halved about every 4-5 years. This will continue as cost is most sensitive to volume production, and gigafactories are being announced more frequently.
    Volkswagen, Toyota, BMW, GM, Daimler, Hyundai, Dyson, Fisker and others are all investing significantly in solid state battery technology for release in cars in the 2023 - 2025 time frame. Solid state Li-ion batteries offer about 50% improvement in energy density by itself [no liquid content]. Other improvements will add more. They also hold promise to increase safety and speed up charge times.
    Lithium sulfur and lithium air chemistries offer even denser energy storage [price/performance], but are still plagued with flaws so are farther off.
    Battery energy density doubling [a low grade Moore's Law] occurs about every 7-8 years. Look for this to improve some as the huge research pipeline is starting to bear fruit.
    Since battery storage will significantly rewrite energy generation/use economics, when do oil companies become energy companies and use their cash, technology and operations expertise to participate?

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