Steven Lee, Senior Manager – Innovation & Technology at IPI, shares some of the latest developments and innovations in battery technology.

The modern world we live in today runs on more and more batteries with each passing year. From the gradual adoption of electric vehicles to banning the use of gas-powered machinery, many policies around the world are accelerating the growth of renewable energy in which batteries play an indispensable role in success. Of course, this transition will not just require more batteries but also cheaper production costs and address the shortcomings of the two-decades-old lithium-ion battery technology, reaching its limits in terms of energy and power densities, limitations in ultra-fast charging and discharging applications, cycle life, degradations in terms of its ability to hold charges due to loss of active materials and solid-electrolyte interface (SEI) formation, self-discharge, reduced performance in cold climate, etc.  

IPI’s Senior Manager, Innovation & Technology, Steven Lee, says “Running out of charge for devices and equipment has long been an issue for many people, most commonly affecting smartphones and now the running range of electric vehicles, on average of about 500 km before reaching undesirable levels. Battery life remains a significant concern for users and more work needs to be done to increase their efficiency and lifespan.”

Indeed, current battery technology innovations have remained incremental, and it hold up technology breakthroughs. Fortunately, new developments and green energy innovation in battery technology are right around the corner to revolutionise mobile power sources as we know them.

What is Battery Technology

Before delving into what to look forward to in the future of battery technology, let us first take a quick look at its current state and review how electricity is generated in a battery. First, a battery is simply a device that stores chemical energy and turns it into electrical energy through electrochemistry. Batteries are made up of three basic components: an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte. A separator is often used to prevent the anode and cathode from contact if the electrolyte is not sufficient which may lead to a short circuit issue.

The anode (negative) and cathode (positive) are electrodes that conduct electricity which enters or leaves a component in a circuit. Current flows into an anode and flows out of a cathode. The electrolyte is often a liquid or gel substance that transports ions between the chemical reactions that happen at the anode and cathode. The electrolyte also inhibits the flow of electrons between the anode and cathode so that the electrons are forced to flow through the external circuit rather than through the electrolyte. This is crucial in the operation of a battery.

During operation of a battery, the reaction at the anode produces extra electrons in a process called oxidation, and the reaction at the cathode uses the extra electrons during a process known as reduction. In a closed circuit, electrons flow from the anode to the cathode in these continuous reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions and we can then harness the movement of electrons in this reaction to flow outside the battery to power a load or electrical device in the circuit.

Now that we have a better idea of how batteries work, let us look into the latest developments that are just over the horizon.

Three Latest Developments In Battery Technology

1. Silicon anode batteries

Silicon anode batteries are a promising advancement in lithium-ion battery technology. Traditional lithium-ion batteries use graphite anodes, but silicon anodes offer much higher theoretical capacities. Silicon can store up to ten times more lithium ions than graphite, enhancing the battery's energy density.

These batteries find potential applications in various fields, including electric vehicles (EVs), portable electronics, and grid storage. Their high energy density can significantly extend the range of EVs and improve the runtime of portable devices.

Despite their promise, silicon anode batteries face challenges. The main issue is silicon's tendency to expand and contract during charge-discharge cycles, causing electrode degradation and ultimately reducing the battery's lifespan. This phenomenon leads to capacity fading and limits the commercial viability of silicon anode batteries.

2. Solid-state batteries (Lithium metal battery)

Solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes instead of liquid ones found in traditional lithium-ion batteries. Lithium metal batteries, a type of solid-state battery, employ lithium metal as an anode. They promise higher energy density and safety due to the elimination of the flammable liquid electrolyte.

Solid-state batteries have potential applications in EVs, wearable electronics, and medical devices. Their enhanced safety and increased energy density could revolutionise the performance and safety standards of various battery-powered devices.

One of the major challenges is developing solid electrolytes that maintain high conductivity at room temperature. Additionally, the growth of dendrites—protrusions of lithium that can cause short circuits—on the lithium metal surface during charging remains a significant concern, impacting the battery's longevity and safety.

3. Sodium-ion batteries

Sodium-ion batteries are similar to lithium-ion batteries but use sodium ions instead of lithium ions for energy storage. Sodium is more abundant and less expensive than lithium, making these batteries potentially more cost-effective.

They are suitable for large-scale energy storage systems, where cost is a crucial factor. Sodium-ion batteries can be utilised in stationary energy storage for renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, as well as in grid applications.

The challenge lies in achieving comparable performance to lithium-ion batteries. Sodium ions are larger than lithium ions, leading to slower diffusion rates and lower energy density. This limitation hampers the development of high-performance sodium-ion batteries for applications requiring high energy density and rapid charge/discharge capabilities.

To conclude, the growing demand for better batteries has led to many innovations all vying to replace the current golden standard of lithium-ion technology by addressing its many shortcomings not just from the technical perspective but also in the sustainability aspect.

The above-mentioned battery technologies are only a fraction of the many developments, all racing to be commericalised and therefore the importance of engaging open innovation services to discover what else is in store for the battery industry, like solid-state batteries, graphene batteries, and more.

To learn more about the latest developments in battery tech and other innovations, do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].