The Battery Series
Part 1: The Evolution of Battery Technology
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand, and future applications.
Introduction to The Battery Series
Today, how we store energy is just as important as how we create it.
Battery technology already makes electric cars possible, as well as helping us to store emergency power, fly satellites, and use portable electronic devices.
But tomorrow, could you be boarding a battery-powered airplane, or living in a city powered at night by solar energy?
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores how batteries work, the players in the market, the materials needed to build batteries, and how future battery developments may affect the world. This is Part 1, which looks at the basics of batteries and the history of battery technology.
Batteries convert stored chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Batteries have three main components:
(-) Anode:The negative electrode that gets oxidized, releasing electrons
(+) Cathode: The positive electrode that is reduced, by acquiring electrons
Electrolyte: The medium that provides the ion transport mechanism between the cathode and anode of a cell. It can be liquid or solid.
At the most basic level, batteries are very simple. In fact, a primitive battery can even be made with a copper penny, galvanized nail (zinc), and a lemon or potato.
The Evolution of Battery Technology
While creating a simple battery is quite easy, the challenge is that making a good battery is very difficult. Balancing power, weight, cost, and other factors involves managing many trade-offs, and scientists have worked for hundreds of years to get to today’s level of efficiency.
Here’s a brief history of how batteries have changed over the years:
Voltaic Pile (1799)
Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, in 1799, created the first electrical battery that could provide continuous electrical current to a circuit. The voltaic pile used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper for an electrolyte.
His invention disproved the common theory that electricity could only be created by living beings.
Daniell Cell (1836)
About 40 years later, a British chemist named John Frederic Daniell would create a new cell that would solve the “hydrogen bubble” problem of the Voltaic pile. This previous problem, in which bubbles collected on the bottom of the zinc electrodes, limited the pile’s lifespan and uses.
The Daniell cell, invented in 1836, used a copper pot filled with copper sulfate solution, which was further immersed in an earthenware container filled with sulfuric acid and a zinc electrode.
The Daniell cell’s electrical potential became the basis unit for voltage, equal to one volt.
The lead-acid battery was the first rechargeable battery, invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Planté.
Lead-acid batteries excel in two areas: they are very low cost, and they also can supply high surge currents.
This makes them suitable for automobile starter motors even with today’s technology, and it’s part of the reason $44.7 billion of lead-acid batteries were sold globally in 2014.
Nickel Cadmium (1899)
NiCd batteries were invented in 1899 by Waldemar Jungner in Sweden. The first ones were “wet-cells” similar to lead-acid batteries, using a liquid electrolyte.
Nickel Cadmium batteries helped pave the way for modern technology, but they are being used less and less because of cadmium’s toxicity. NiCd batteries lost 80% of their market share in the 1990s to batteries that are more familiar to us today.
Alkaline Batteries (1950s)
Popularized by brands like Duracell and Energizer, alkaline batteries are used in regular household devices from remote controls to flashlights. They are inexpensive and typically non-rechargeable, though they can be made rechargeable by using a specially designed cell.
The modern alkaline battery was invented by Canadian engineer Lewis Urry in the 1950s. Using zinc and manganese oxide in the electrodes, the battery type gets its name from the alkaline electrolyte used: potassium hydroxide.
Over 10 billion alkaline batteries have been made in the world.
Nickel-Metal Hydride (1989)
Similar to the rechargeable NiCd battery, the NiMH formulation uses a hydrogen-absorbing alloy instead of toxic cadmium. This makes it more environmentally safe – and it also helps to increase the energy density.
NiMH batteries are used in power tools, digital cameras, and some other electronic devices. They also were used in early hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.
The development of the NiMH spanned two decades, and was sponsored by Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen AG. The first commercially available cells were in 1989.
Sony released the first commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991.
Lithium-ion batteries have high energy density and have a number of specific cathode formulations for different applications.
For example, lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2) cathodes are used in laptops and smartphones, while lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) cathodes, also known as NCAs, are used in the batteries of vehicles such as the Tesla Model S.
Graphite is a common material for use in the anode, and the electrolyte is most often a type of lithium salt suspended in an organic solvent.
The Rechargeable Battery Spectrum
There are several factors that could affect battery choice, including cost.
However, here are two of the most important factors that determine the fit and use of rechargeable batteries specifically:
Think of specific energy as in the amount of water in a tank. It’s the amount of energy a battery holds in total.
Meanwhile, specific power is the speed at which that water can pour out of the tank. It’s the amount of current a battery can supply for a given use.
And while today the lithium-ion battery is the workhorse for gadgets and electric vehicles – what batteries will be vital to our future? How big is that market?
Find out in the rest of the Battery Series. (Parts 2 through 5 will be released throughout the summer of 2016).
Animation: The Entire History of Tesla in 5 Minutes
Everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.
How did Tesla accelerate from 0-60 mph in such a short period of time?
Today’s five-minute-long animation is presented in association with Global Energy Metals, and it tells you everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.
Watch the video:
The video primarily keys in on Tesla’s successes and the setbacks the company has faced along the way – it also shows that Tesla was able to pass Ford in market value just seven years after the company’s IPO.
The Rise of Tesla Series
The above video is the culmination of our Rise of Tesla Series, which also includes three full-length infographics that tell a more in-depth story about the history of Tesla, and what the company aspires to:
1. Tesla’s Origin Story (View infographic)
- What was the vision behind the founding of Tesla?
- Early hurdles faced by the company, including its near escape from the brink of bankruptcy
- Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, and the dramatic actions taken to keep it alive
- A timeline showing the development of the Roadster, and why this first car matters
2. Tesla’s Journey: How it Passed Ford in Value (View Infographic)
- The company’s plan to parlay the Roadster’s success into a viable long-term company strategy
- Introducing the Tesla Model S and Model X
- How the company would use the Gigafactory concept to bring economies of scale to battery production
- Other milestones: Powerwall, Autopilot, and Tesla’s growing Supercharger network
- The announcement of the Model 3
3. Elon Musk’s Vision for the Future of Tesla (View Infographic)
- Detailing Tesla’s ambitions for the future, including how it plans to productize the factory
- Other vehicles Tesla plans to release, including the Tesla Semi and a future ultra low cost model
- How Tesla plans to combine fully autonomous cars with the future sharing economy
- Exploding demand for lithium-ion batteries, and why Tesla is planning on building additional Gigafactories
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Have you ever wondered how much copper is in an electric vehicle? This infographic shows the metal’s properties as well as the quantity of copper used.
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Copper’s special relationship with electricity has been apparent since ship designers first regularly began installing copper to protect the masts of wooden ships from lightning in the early 19th century.
Today, of course, you might be more used to seeing copper’s electrical applications through the use of power lines, telephone wires, and wiring in practically every major home appliance you own.
Millions of tons get used for these applications every year, but it is still early days for copper’s use in electrification. That’s because copper will continue to be a critical component of the green energy revolution, thanks to the rising adoption of battery-powered vehicles.
Today’s visualization comes to us from Canadian Platinum Corp., and it focuses on showing how much copper is in an electric vehicle, along with the properties that make it the ideal choice for an EV-powered future.
Here is why copper is a crucial component to vehicle manufacturers:
Copper costs roughly $0.20 per ounce, compared to silver ($15/oz) and gold ($1200/oz), making it by far the cheapest option for electrical wire.
Copper is nearly as conductive as silver – the most conductive metal – but comes at a fraction of the cost.
Copper can easily be shaped into wire, which is important for most electrical applications.
It’s also important to note that temperature does not affect copper’s conductivity, which makes the metal ideal for automobiles in all climates.
Copper in Gas vs. Electric Vehicles
The UBS Evidence Lab tore apart a traditional gas-powered vehicle as well as an EV to compare the different quantities of raw materials used.
What they found was crucial: there is 80% more copper in a Chevrolet Bolt, in comparison to a similar-sized Volkswagen Golf.
The major reason for this is that at the heart of every EV is an electric motor, which is built with copper, steel, and permanent magnets (rare earths). Electric motors tend to be much simpler than gas-powered engines, which have hundreds of moving parts.
Incredibly, in an electric motor, there can be more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator.
The More Electric, the More Copper
According to Copper.org, along the scale from gas-powered cars to fully electrical vehicles, copper use increases dramatically.
Conventional gas-powered cars contain 18 to 49 lbs. of copper while a battery-powered EV contains 183 lbs. Meanwhile, for a fully electrical bus, a whopping 814 lbs. of copper is needed.
With the rapidly increasing adoption of electric vehicles, copper will be an essential material for the coming electrification of all forms of ground transport.
Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle and the world will need more. By 2027, copper demand stemming from EVs is expected to increase by 1.7 million tonnes, which is a number just shy of China’s entire copper production in 2017.
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