Battery Technology

The car industry is dominated by internal combustion engines run on fossil fuels in large part because modern battery technology cannot match the energy density of petroleum based fuels.Researchers are continually studying battery technology to push the envelope forward on battery technology. Many of the batteries found in advanced electronics are based on lithium ion technology. Cell Phones, laptops and electric in vehicles rely on Li-ion cells. Unfortunately, scientists estimate the theoretical ceiling for Li-ion technology will only squeeze out 30% more power from the technology, which will not be enough to revolutionize either the electronics or transportation industries.

As research continues into incrementally improving Li-ion technology, batteries based on other electrodes is advancing. Lithium-Sulfur batteries, for example, can carry much energy in a single charge than Li-ion batteries are theoretically capable of holding five times as much energy as Li-ion batteries. Small specially engineered test cells the size of coins are already capable of performance on par with Lithium-ion batteries. Scaling up the technology will create more problems with degradation of the battery and its capacity to hold a charge.  Currently, lithium-sulfur batteries are not commercially available.


10 comments to Battery Technology

  • heardd16

    I did a little more research on the Li-sulphur batteries. Although they are much more powerful than the standard Li-ion battery, apparently they typically expire after just a few charges. Development on a metal-organic framework by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is helping extend the life of the Li-sulphur battery.

  • mayolj16

    Are batteries the future or would an external supply of energy be more efficient? There are some plans for future roads to be able to provide energy through the wheels to cars, a similar system to the bumper cars, but instead of feeding through a cable touching the wired ceiling, this is through the ground, like Scalextric cars. This would require a lot of initial investment and time, but it could solve the energy storing problem.

    • reed

      Sounds like a cool idea. I wonder how long it would take private industry to implement this given the immense infrastructure investment required. Would the government have to do it? If so, the government would instantly become one of the largest energy providers in the country because it would have to sell all of the electricity used by the cars to consumers. That’s a HUGE political mess waiting to happen. Seems like some smaller country would have to figure it out first so we could copy their model.

  • mayolj16

    Just found a video on this: apparently is not that hard to do and Renault is already doing it.

  • Louis Ike

    I think that the movement away from fossil fuel usage in cars is a huge step forward in the right direction. As your post explains, there are limitations as to the feasibility of mass produced cars due to charge limitations and other issues. My concern though is that even if one were to assume that batteries became viable and used domestically and abroad, the big problem would still exist. The big problem I am referring to is climate change (encompassing pollution, particulates, co2, and many more factors), the power used to recharge these batteries would come from coal or natural gas based power plants. The switch away from gas powered cars would undoubtedly help, but in the long run electricity generation is the field that needs to be reformed in order to ensure a habitable world.

    • reed

      coincidentally, I address this issue in a more recent post:
      I think you’re right, but I think the primary benefit of electric vehicles is that the source of the electricity doesn’t matter to the car whereas gas powered vehicles have to consume gasoline.

      • Exactly: solar cells and wind power and [currently politically taboo] nuclear power all offer carbon-free alternatives and are falling in price [nuclear again is politicized…]. And they’re non-fossil-fuel alternatives, so there’s the diversification component. Meanwhile batteries (overnight charging) can be undertaken in non-peak-load periods of electricity demand.

  • mayolj16

    More innovations that could support the “Scalextric” idea, and solve our energy problems:
    This is a prototype that would cover the highways with solar panels. These solar panels could feed the electric cars directly eliminating the need of batteries.

  • Several good issues here. BEVs are potentially much more efficient (conversion of energy to motive power is better, regenerative braking lessens that loss, and you have more flexibility in physical layout). Most consumers globally could already use them for their daily driving needs and with fewer batteries = lower cruising range than a Tesla. So one potential enabler is simply changed expectations (complemented by use of rentals for longer trips). A second is more rapid charging – the extreme is Scalextric but simply having pervasive recharging stations means that every time you park you extend your range and/or can use a smaller, less expensive battery pack. I’ve seen inductive charging stations being field-tested in the parking lots of Delphi, so it becomes a question of keeping up-front capital costs low or getting them used a lot. Third of course are better batteries. Remember exponential growth (the rule of 70 ≈ 72): 3% a year cost reduction halves the cost in 20 years. No one of these 3 measures is likely to be sufficient by itself, but a combination (in my estimation) will be.
    On the environmental front, turning wind turbines and solar cells offer renewable sources of energy, and these are a natural complement to electric vehicles. (Biofuels are another option, easier perhaps for diesels in the US context, which are also harder to electrify due to their sheer horsepower needs.) However making batteries remains energy intensive, so you need to do life-cycle calculations. I don’t know the current reality there, much less the prognosis for post-2020.

  • Power systems that produce sustainable and clean electrical energy generally make use of solar panels. A lot of homes are now making use of solar power particularly in California. You can get solar panels if you desire to get a continuous supply of electrical power.

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