The Future of Battery Tech

Unless you’ve just arrived on planet Earth, you’ve probably heard of Elon Musk and his company Tesla. By all accounts, Tesla pioneered the modern electric vehicle (EV). This, of course, has a lot to do with innovations in battery technology – as well as some snazzy car designs. The subject of this article is about the former, not the latter.

Battery Tech has come a long way over the past decade alone. The next decade will most certainly see even greater leaps in design. The real question that probably permeates most inquisitive minds has to do with where battery tech is heading – and what will become the standard.

Importance of Battery Evolution

 Why all the talk about batteries? It’s not like they haven’t been around for generations.

The answer lies with the need for energy – more to the point, the ability to store and use as much as technology allows in any given scenario.

Take the EV, for instance. You can hardly get down the road without packing a lot of batteries into a car. In fact, batteries make up a lot of the EV’s weight. In this regard, there’s a balancing act of battery storage versus the total weight of the vehicle. Therefore, as energy density goes up and/or battery size decreases, the EV range will increase.  It’s safe to say that battery evolution is very important to the EV market.

Still, there are more applications to consider than just vehicles.

Beyond the EV

Let’s call batteries “energy storage” for a moment.

Energy storage is said to be the next trillion-dollar business. If you’re wondering why then the answer is simply demand. With power grids being so susceptible, it makes sense to build something suitable for the 21st Century.

Batteries, in one form or another, appear to be the energy storage most are betting on. From home power walls to massive battery farms, this new electrical grid will be much greener – and more fault-tolerant.

Imagine a scenario where, instead of massive grids that serve many states, you would have smaller grids spread out over the countryside. Large battery farms will spring up and serve local communities. With a combination of solar panels and battery storage, your very home could be its own micro-grid.

The Batteries of Tomorrow

The race for the next battery tech is well underway. 

There are many chefs in the kitchen and each seems to be chasing a recipe that is different from the other. Some of those differences are minor, while others are profound. They can range from variances in the cathode, anode, or electrolyte to complete makeovers of what a battery is.

Of these components, the anode (negative) releases electrons while the cathode (positive) captures them. The third piece, the electrolyte, is the substance that provides the means of moving energy (ions) between the other two.

The current standard is the tried-and-true Lithium-ion (li-ion). Yet, this technology can only take consumer needs so far. Tomorrow’s battery needs to be denser in energy while lighter in mass. They need to be safer and cheaper to produce. There are many approaches – too many to cover here. Let’s take a look at some alternatives and compare them to Lithium-Ion.

Lithium-Sulfur

As the name suggests, this variance of battery uses sulfur in its cathode – instead of cobalt. This, alone, is an advantage in cost and availability. In addition, they’re lighter and more energy-dense

The main disadvantage is that they start to fail after fewer recharges than their other counterparts. Until that problem is resolved, they’re not a viable alternative in most scenarios. Still, there are those working on just that.

Lithium-Iron Phosphate

These batteries are also similar to Lithium-Ion, with the exception to the cathode – which consists of iron phosphate.

Beyond that, the differences include lower energy density, higher discharge rate, better safety (stability), lower cost, and longer lifecycle. Though these batteries make good alternatives in larger applications, they’re too heavy for smaller ones.

Solid-State

Lithium-ion batteries use a liquid electrolyte to allow the transfer of ions between the anode and cathode. Solid-state batteries do not.

You can guess from the name that these batteries use a solid electrolyte to separate the electrodes. This allows for several benefits over their liquid counterparts.

For one, they’re safer to manufacture and use. One of the biggest drawbacks of today’s liquid electrolytes is that they’re flammable. You’ve probably seen or heard of situations where lithium-ion batteries can erupt into flames. Solid-state batteries greatly decrease this danger.

Other benefits include being smaller, having less weight, and having faster charging times. While manufacturing hurdles exist today, it’s just a matter of time before this battery starts taking over the market.

In Conclusion

Many other battery technologies are being researched and tested. Which one(s) will someday hit the market has yet to be seen.

Whichever iterations of the battery materialize in daily use, one thing is clear. The road to the future is moving away from fossil fuels. This is a good thing. After all, burning the remains of long-deceased organic life should be a thing of the past. The age of the battery is here.

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