Lithium-Ion Batteries Invade U.S EV Market
In today’s market, the best-performing electric and hybrid vehicles are powered by lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Battery makers have been able to leverage preexisting technology advanced for Li-ion batteries from prior lower power applications such as mobile devices and laptops, which have enabled this type of battery to lead the way in electric vehicles in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Li-ion batteries are expected to be the leading technology for pursuing President Obama’s goal of having 1 million electric cars on the road in the U.S by 2015, but significantly more improvement of these batteries is necessary to actually meet or beat that mark. A high percentage of the green energy component of the stimulus package was focused on funding advanced batteries for electric vehicles to enable the country to reach this goal.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBL), in Berkeley, CA, is one of the leading U.S. research institutions for advanced battery technology, and researchers there are focused on extending the mileage per battery charge up to 300 miles, compared to approximately only 35 miles for many current models of electric vehicles. This would ultimately improve U.S. energy security by reducing its dependence on foreign oil from unfriendly foes such as Iran, while also lowering carbon emissions for its anticipated environmental benefits.
In general, the size of a battery correlates to the amount of energy it can retain. Several future battery alternatives being investigated at LBL include lithium-sulfur and lithium-air, which have the potential to generate much higher energy densities than Li-ion technology; thus fuel electric cars for longer distances. In short, the lithium–sulfur (Li-S) battery is a rechargeable galvanic cell, which is relatively light and having an internal density similar to water. Sulphur is also significantly less expensive of a raw material than lithium, which offers inherent cost advantages. In comparison, the lithium-air (Li-air) battery is a battery chemistry that uses the oxidation of lithium at the anode and reduction of oxygen at the cathode to induce a current flow. Li-air batteries have a much higher energy density than conventional Li-ion batteries, since they utilize the oxygen in air, eliminating the need for a Li-air battery to store fuel (oxygen) at the cathode.
However, the timeframe to commercialization is still not clear for either option and if they will definitively win-out in the race for the top electric vehicle battery on the market. What’s more, the leading candidate should also be environmentally-safe to dispose of after a minimum 15-year lifespan.
Another leading national lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in Oak Ridge, TN, is working on related Li-based battery R&D efforts to LBL. ORNL has been more focused on a key battery component, the anode, where electricity is extracted in the system. The anodes of most current commercial lithium batteries are composed of graphite, which is a form of carbon. However, scientists at ORNL incorporated a special form of the compound, titanium dioxide, into the anode instead, which significantly enhanced performance. In recent tests, at the same level of current, it took the ORNL battery only six minutes to be 50 percent charged; thus generating a five-fold improvement over a graphite-based lithium-ion battery in the same period.
ORNL’s new battery has the potential to be used in a plethora of heavy-duty applications, beyond just hybrid electric vehicles including power grids and energy storage systems for wind and solar power generators, and this institution believes the best-case scenario would thrust it onto the market within five years.
ORNL and LBL are helping pioneer the next-generation of green automobiles in the U.S. to help the country reach President Obama’s goal of having 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015, while also becoming less reliant on foreign oil, which is forecasted to escalate dramatically in price in the coming years.
Brian Coppa, Ph.D., has authored many pending U.S. patents,international peer-reviewed journal articles, and industry analysespublications concerning electronic materials and devices and greentechnology, which have received numerous prestigious citations andgarnered numerous invited presentations across the U.S. He is a leadingsenior consultant for GLG Inc. regarding alternative energy andmicroelectronic applications.
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