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Lithium-Ion Batteries: Why Our Future is Moving Towards a Rechargeable One

Auth Anushka Agarwal | Apr 07,2020
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When we talk about sustainable energy solutions, battery-powered energy solutions occupy the first row. With the world losing reserves of petroleum and coal, there will not be enough left for future generations. Furthermore, the depleting reserves of the non-sustainable resources are the reason why the attention is shifted towards such solutions that can power the future operations. 

Many countries have realized the enormous nature of the problem, ditching gas and diesel cars in the favor of electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the world is looking forward to more renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power, and with their rapid growth, there is a wide range of research and expertise required in the area of electric vehicles. In simple household use, people are opting more of AA rechargeable batteries or AAA rechargeable batteries instead of the traditional ones. 

Questions like, is there enough raw materials available to venture such an idea, and are there energy storage solutions for such vehicles, and how sustainable these energy sources are, always crop up the minds of such researchers. 

Which Technology Is Needed to Manufacture Such Vehicles?

The remarkable technology of lithium-ion batteries has applications in different segments including medical devices, cell phones, computers, power tools drones, hybrid and electric cars, buses and ferries, airplanes, and micro-grid or for home-based storage. 

For running electric vehicles, their batteries need to store a high amount of power. Furthermore, the production of such batteries has to increase over time as well. Today, over one billion rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells are produced each year for the consumer electronics market. Such batteries are used for traditional uses, like e-bikes, energy storage, and electric vehicles. However, according to a report, the need for such batteries will increase for electric vehicles. 

The Rise Of Cobalt-Powered Energy Solutions

Lithium-ion batteries are perfect energy solutions for electric vehicles but its sustainability is always a question. This is where cobalt is discussed, to fulfill the energy needs. It was Sony that commercialized the use of lithium-ion battery and since then, the industry has been dependent on this element. 

The combination of lithium and cobalt-containing oxide has been functioning as the positive terminal of the cell. So much that, every lithium-ion cell consists of cobalt in some quantities. It’s fair to say that cobalt is the heart of lithium-ion batteries. Cobalt ions decide how much of energy is being stored in the batteries, given mass and volume which directly impacts the energy density of the cell. 

As of today’s, mining expeditions, the lithium-ion battery uses 40% of the world’s mined cobalt. However, unlike that of the smartphones, that require only a small concentration of cobalt, a car battery powered by a lithium-ion battery,  needs 10kg of cobalt which is 1000 times more than the normal amount. The rise of electric vehicles will, therefore, require the mining of such minerals, mainly in the regions of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also, the sources of cobalt are still a big question before their launch for customer applications. 

Replacing cobalt-containing compounds is not going to be easy, for economic reasons. The bigger problem is encountered in finding a replacement for it. Some cells require a combination of phosphate and lithium for high-end uses, however, most of them require cobalt only. To find a replacement component will mean finding a material that allows a battery cell to operate for more than thousands of recharge cycles. This material should have the same stability as that of the lithium-cobalt combination. 

How Lithium-Ion Cell Work?

The lithium and cobalt form the positive end of the cell. When the cell is in operation, the lithium ions are removed from the positive terminal and added to the active materials in a cell. This causes the cell to shrink and expand. Over time, the same process takes place and the mechanical rearrangement of the cell occurs. This degrades the capability of the cell, to undergo any more recharge cycles. 

Amongst the metal combinations, the most resistant to such degradation is lithium-cobalt-oxide because the cobalt ad lithium are bound in adherence to each other, and this forms a layered structure. The lithium ions then move in and out of the structure only. 

Replacing the entire setup with any other sort of combination will render it unsafe and unstable too. Cobalt in the lithium-cobalt-oxide can be replaced by nickel, manganese, and aluminum atoms only. That is why most of the Tesla cars include lithium-nickel-cobalt- aluminum-oxide association. These are called as the metal substitutes cobalt oxide and are a very hot trend in the battery field. 

How are Such Batteries Recycled?

Most of the lead-acid batteries are recycled, however, their process is not straightforward. Due to the different types of cell types and so many constituent materials, the approach to recycling such components include careful and individual handling of all such parts. Pyrometallurgy is employed to smelt the lithium ions. The other alloys are obtained from this melt, and they can process back into individual metals or they can also be used to make battery materials. 

Wrapping it Up

The use of rechargeable batteries is our future and the sooner we start employing it, the more easily we can establish our excellence over it. SmartCell batteries are doing their bit in launching their range of premium rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries. 

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