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).
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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