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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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The Biggest Threat To Lithium-Ion Batteries

A team of researchers from the Department of Energy have discovered the fastest, they say, magnesium-ion solid-state conductor – a discovery that could potentially upend the battery market in the future and also one that is highlighting the intensifying rush to search for alternatives to lithium-ion batteries.

Most of these announcements usually cause little more than an indifferent shrug simply because it would take too long for the discoveries to attain any sort of commercial viability, especially in competition with lithium-ion batteries, which are also the object of research to make them more reliable, more efficient, and safer.

But the implications of this discovery are serious enough to merit a report. The key is the solid state of the conductor that the team created, which could be used as an electrolyte in a battery. Electrolytes are as a rule either metals in molten state or a liquid solution, through which ions travel. Conductors are solid-state metals, through which free electrons travel. One other important difference between conductors and electrolytes is that the electric current that flows through conductors is constant, which is not the case with electrolytes, where the strength of the current may change as the electrolyte changes over time.

Related: Visualizing OPEC’s Success

The team tried to find a conductor that could become a less flammable alternative to electrolyte lithium-ion batteries and came up with a complex material with an even more complex name: magnesium scandium selenide spinel. The key ingredient in the mix was magnesium, which turned out to have mobility comparable to that of lithium ions in electrolyte batteries. In fact, one of the lead authors of the study, Pieremanuele Canepa, said the speed was “unprecedented”.

Still, it will be a long while until the discovery becomes a commercial product, so it would be a bit early to say it’s another nail in the coffin of lithium-ion batteries that so many people seem eager to build. It is even too early for another solid-state battery that uses glass as an electrolyte: the one developed by University of Porto assistant professor Marian Helena Braga and the creator of the first lithium-ion battery, John Goodenough.

In April, the glass battery project made headlines by promising a much higher energy density than normal lithium-ion batteries, a longer life cycle, non-flammability, faster charging times, and lower costs. Wonderful as all this sounds, it will take a lot of time to turn the prototype cell into an actual battery. A recent Bloomberg interview with Goodenough revealed that the team needs partners from the battery industry to make the jump from the lab to the factory. According to Goodenough, this could take between three and five years if all goes well. Related: U.S. East Coast Looks To Become Hub For Wind Power

Meanwhile, a hybrid carmaker from California, Fisker, has patented a solid-state car battery that, according to the company, has an energy density 2.5 times greater than that of lithium-ion cells. Higher energy density means faster charging times. This battery, too, is at least five years away from hitting markets, however.

Batteries are a big issue in the electric car boom. So big, in fact, that they could become the biggest hurdle to the mainstream adoption of EVs. They are simply too costly, which makes the EVs costly. Yet there is light on the horizon: According to Bloomberg New Energy Intelligence, the costs of EV batteries need to fall by more than 50 percent to make them competitive with internal combustion engine cars and this may happen by 2026. Competition from solid-state batteries would certainly help the cost-cutting drive.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Bill Simpson on December 01 2017 said:
    Sooner or later some group will come up with something better than lithium ion batteries. the thing is they will need to be able to be mass produced and be cheap enough to use in cars.
    Thousands of scientists are working on developing better batteries.
    But hydrocarbons will always be coveted. Those are very useful molecules.
  • kent beuchert on December 07 2017 said:
    Bloomberg should not be cited as a source of information. The price of batteries that most (reliable) estimators claim will give EVs parity with gas powered vehicles was always $100 kWhr. GM is currently paying $150
    and expectes the price to fall below $100 within two years. Absolutely no one believes the claim by Bloomberg. But the price of the batteries required for parity depends upon more than just capacity. As batteries recharge faster, there is lesser need for massive battery packs. Porsche just demonstrated their charging protocol using CCS and recharged a 300plus mile battery to 80% in less than 15 minutes. And recharges are poised to get faster yet. For a typical vehicle, a 70kWhr pack can achieve a 300 mile driving range, or more, costing GM $10,500 @ $150, and just $7,000 in a few years @ $100, and less than that according to GM, thereafter. And,as we can see, many owners are content with sub 300 mile driving ranges. Only on trips does a larger battery provide any value. And that value is diminishing with faster recharges.

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