Cathodes: The Key to Advancing Lithium-Ion Technology
The inner-workings of most commercialized batteries are typically pretty straightforward.
The lead-acid battery, which is the traditional battery used in the automotive sector, is as easy as it gets. Put two lead plates in sulphuric acid, and you’re off to the races.
However, lithium-ion batteries are almost infinitely more complex than their predecessors. That’s because “lithium-ion” refers to a mechanism – the transfer of lithium-ions – which can occur in a variety of cathode, anode, and electrolyte environments. As a result, there’s not just one type of lithium-ion battery, but instead the name acts as an umbrella that represents thousands of different formulations that could work.
The Cathode’s Importance
Today’s infographic comes to us from Nano One, a Canadian tech company that specializes in battery materials, and it provides interesting context on lithium-ion battery advancements over the last couple of decades.
Since the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery in the 1990s, there have been relatively few developments in the materials or technology used for anodes and electrolytes. For example, graphite is still the material of choice for anodes, though researchers are trying to figure out how to make the switch over to silicon. Meanwhile, the electrolyte is typically a lithium salt in an organic solvent (except in lithium-ion polymer batteries).
Cathodes, on the other hand, are a very different story. That’s because they are usually made up of metal oxides or phosphates – and there are many different possible combinations that can be used.
Here are five examples of commercialized cathode formulations, and the metals needed for them (aside from lithium):
|Cathode Type||Chemistry||Example Metal Portions||Example Use|
|NCA||LiNiCoAlO2||80% Nickel, 15% Cobalt, 5% Aluminum||Tesla Model S|
|LCO||LiCoO2||100% Cobalt||Apple iPhone|
|LMO||LiMn2O4||100% Manganese||Nissan Leaf|
|NMC||LiNiMnCoO2||Nickel 33.3%, Manganese 33.3%, Cobalt 33.3%||Tesla Powerwall|
|LFP||LiFePO4||100% Iron||Starter batteries|
Lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, aluminum, and iron are just some of the metals used in current lithium-ion batteries out there – and each battery type has considerably different properties. The type of cathode chosen can affect the energy density, power density, safety, cycle life, and cost of the overall battery, and this is why researchers are constantly experimenting with new ideas and combinations.
For companies like Tesla, which wants the exit rate of lithium-ion cells to be faster than “bullets from a machine gun”, the cathode is of paramount importance. Historically, it’s where most advancements in lithium-ion battery technology have been made.
Cathode choice is a major factor for determining battery energy density, and cathodes also typically account for 25% of lithium-ion battery costs. That means the cathode can impact both the performance and cost pieces of the $/kWh equation – and building a better cathode will likely be a key driver for the success of the green revolution.
Luckily, the future of cathode development has many exciting prospects. These include concepts such as building cathodes with layered-layered composite structures or orthosilicates, as well as improvements to the fundamental material processes used in cathode assembly.
As these new technologies are applied, the cost of lithium-ion batteries will continue to decrease. In fact, experts are now saying that it won’t be long before batteries will hit $80/kWh – a cost that would make EVs undeniably cheaper than traditional gas-powered vehicles.
Visualizing Copper’s Role in the Transition to Clean Energy
A clean energy transition is underway as wind, solar, and batteries take center stage. Here’s how copper plays the critical role in these technologies.
A future powered by renewables is not in the distant horizon, but rather in its early hours.
This new dawn comes from a global awareness of the environmental impacts of the current energy mix, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Technologies such as wind, solar, and batteries offer renewable and clean alternatives and are leading the way for the transition to clean energy. However, as with every energy transition, there are not only new technologies, but also new material demands.
Copper: A Key Piece of the Puzzle
This energy transition will be mineral intensive and it will require metals such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt. However, one metal stands out as being particularly important, and that is copper.
Today’s infographic comes to us from the Copper Development Association and outlines the special role of copper in renewable power generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles.
The red metal has four key properties that make it ideal for the clean energy transition.
It is these properties that make copper the critical material for wind and solar technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles.
It’s also why, according to ThinkCopper, the generation of electricity from solar and wind uses four to six times more copper than fossil fuel sources.
Copper in Wind
A three-megawatt wind turbine can contain up to 4.7 tons of copper with 53% of that demand coming from the cable and wiring, 24% from the turbine/power generation components, 4% from transformers, and 19% from turbine transformers.
The use of copper significantly increases when going offshore. That’s because onshore wind farms use approximately 7,766 lbs of copper per MW, while an offshore wind installation uses 21,068 lbs of copper per MW.
It is the cabling of the offshore wind farms to connect them to each other and to deliver the power that accounts for the bulk of the copper usage.
Copper in Solar
Solar power systems can contain approximately 5.5 tons of copper per MW. Copper is in the heat exchangers of solar thermal units as well as in the wiring and cabling that transmits the electricity in photovoltaic solar cells.
Navigant Research projects that 262 GW of new solar installations between 2018 and 2027 in North America will require 1.9 billion lbs of copper.
Copper in Energy Storage
There are many ways to store energy, but every method uses copper. For example, a lithium ion battery contains 440 lbs of copper per MW and a flow battery 540 lbs of copper per MW.
Copper wiring and cabling connects renewable power generation with energy storage, while the copper in the switches of transformers help to deliver power at the right voltage.
Across the United States, a total of 5,752 MW of energy capacity has been announced and commissioned.
Copper in Electric Vehicles
Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle (EV). This is because EVs rely on copper for the motor coil that drives the engine.
The more electric the car, the more copper it needs; a car powered by an internal combustion engine contains roughly 48 lbs, a hybrid needs 88 lbs, and a battery electric vehicle uses 184 lbs.
Additionally, the cabling for charging stations of electric vehicles will be another source of copper demand.
The Copper Future
Advances in technologies create new material demands.
Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the transition to renewables is going to create demand for many minerals – and copper is going to be a critical mineral for the new era of energy.
How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?
It is counterintuitive, but electric vehicles are not possible without oil – these petrochemicals bring down the weight of cars to make EVs possible.
How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?
When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye…
Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.
Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible.
It turns out the many everyday materials we rely on from synthetic rubber to plastics to lubricants all come from petrochemicals.
The use of various polymers and plastics has several advantages for manufacturers and consumers:
- Easy to Shape
- Flame Retardant
Today, plastics can make up to 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only 10% of its weight. These plastics can be as strong as steel, but light enough to save on fuel and still maintain structural integrity.
This was not always the case, as oil’s use has evolved and grown over time.
Not Your Granddaddy’s Caddy
Plastics were not always a critical material in auto manufacturing industry, but over time plastics such as polypropylene and polyurethane became indispensable in the production of cars.
Rolls Royce was one of the first car manufacturers to boast about the use of plastics in its car interior. Over time, plastics have evolved into a critical material for reducing the overall weight of vehicles, allowing for more power and conveniences.
Rolls Royce uses phenol formaldehyde resin in its car interiors
Henry Ford experiments with an “all-plastic” car
About 20 lbs. of plastics is used in the average car
Manufacturers begin using plastic for interior decorations
Headlights, bumpers, fenders and tailgates become plastic
Engineered polymers first appear in semi-structural parts of the vehicle
The average car uses over 1000 plastic parts
Electric Dreams: Petrochemicals for EV Innovation
Plastics and other materials made using petrochemicals make vehicles more efficient by reducing a vehicle’s weight, and this comes at a very reasonable cost.
For every 10% in weight reduction, the fuel economy of a car improves roughly 5% to 7%. EV’s need to achieve weight reductions because the battery packs that power them can weigh over 1000 lbs, requiring more power.
Today, plastics and polymers are used for hundreds of individual parts in an electric vehicle.
Oil and the EV Future
Oil is most known as a source of fuel, but petrochemicals also have many other useful physical properties.
In fact, petrochemicals will play a critical role in the mass adoption of electric vehicles by reducing their weight and improving their ranges and efficiency. In According to IHS Chemical, the average car will use 775 lbs of plastic by 2020.
Although it seems counterintuitive, petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas make the major advancements by today’s EVs possible – and the continued use of petrochemicals will mean that both EVS and traditional vehicles will become even lighter, faster, and more efficient.
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