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).
6 Ways Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Can Help Transition to Clean Energy
Here are six reasons why hydrogen and fuel cells can be a fit for helping with the transition to a lower-emission energy mix.
While fossil fuels offer an easily transportable, affordable, and energy-dense fuel for everyday use, the burning of this fuel creates pollutants, which can concentrate in city centers degrading the quality of air and life for residents.
The world is looking for alternative ways to ensure the mobility of people and goods with different power sources, and electric vehicles have high potential to fill this need.
But did you know that not all electric vehicles produce their electricity in the same way?
Hydrogen: An Alternative Vision for the EV
The world obsesses over battery technology and manufacturers such as Tesla, but there is an alternative fuel that powers rocket ships and is road-ready. Hydrogen is set to become an important fuel in the clean energy mix of the future.
Today’s infographic comes from the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA) and it outlines the case for hydrogen.
Hydrogen Supply and Demand
Some scientists have made the argument that it was not hydrogen that caused the infamous Hindenburg to burst into flames. Instead, the powdered aluminum coating of the zeppelin, which provided its silver look, was the culprit. Essentially, the chemical compound coating the dirigibles was a crude form of rocket fuel.
Industry and business have safely used, stored, and transported hydrogen for 50 years, while hydrogen-powered electric vehicles have a proven safety record with over 10 million miles of operation. In fact, hydrogen has several properties that make it safer than fossil fuels:
- 14 times lighter than air and disperses quickly
- Flames have low radiant heat
- Less combustible
Since hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, it can be produced almost anywhere with a variety of methods, including from fuels such as natural gas, oil, or coal, and through electrolysis. Fossil fuels can be treated with extreme temperatures to break their hydrocarbon bonds, releasing hydrogen as a byproduct. The latter method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Both methods produce hydrogen for storage, and later consumption in an electric fuel cell.
Fuel Cell or Battery?
Battery and hydrogen-powered vehicles have the same goal: to reduce the environmental impact from oil consumption. There are two ways to measure the environmental impact of vehicles, from “Well to Wheels” and from “Cradle to Grave”.
Well to wheels refers to the total emissions from the production of fuel to its use in everyday life. Meanwhile, cradle to grave includes the vehicle’s production, operation, and eventual destruction.
According to one study, both of these measurements show that hydrogen-powered fuel cells significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. For every kilometer a hydrogen-powered vehicle drives it produces only 2.7 grams per kilometer (g/km) of carbon dioxide while a battery electric vehicle produces 20 g/km.
During everyday use, both options offer zero emissions, high efficiency, an electric drive, and low noise, but hydrogen offers weight-saving advantages that battery-powered vehicles do not.
In one comparison, Toyota’s Mirai had a maximum driving range of 312 miles, 41% further than Tesla’s Model 3 220-mile range. The Mirai can refuel in minutes, while the Model 3 has to recharge in 8.5 hours for only a 45% charge at a specially configured quick charge station not widely available.
However, the world still lacks the significant infrastructure to make this hydrogen-fueled future possible.
Large scale production delivers economic amounts of hydrogen. In order to achieve this scale, an extensive infrastructure of pipelines and fueling stations are required. However to build this, the world needs global coordination and action.
Countries around the world are laying the foundations for a hydrogen future. In 2017, CEOs from around the word formed the Hydrogen Council with the mission to accelerate the investment in hydrogen.
Globally, countries have announced plans to build 2,800 hydrogen refueling stations by 2025. German pipeline operators presented a plan to create a 1,200-kilometer grid by 2030 to transport hydrogen across the country, which would be the world’s largest in planning.
Fuel cell technology is road-ready with hydrogen infrastructure rapidly catching up. Hydrogen can deliver the power for a new clear energy era.
The New Energy Era: The Impact of Critical Minerals on National Security
The U.S. finds itself in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the critical minerals needed in the new energy era.
In 1954, the United States was only fully reliant on foreign sources for eight mineral commodities.
Fast forward 60+ years, and the country now depends on foreign sources for 20 such materials, including ones essential for military and battery technologies.
This puts the U.S. in a precarious position, depending largely on China and other foreign nations for the crucial materials such as lithium, cobalt, and rare earth metals that can help build and secure a more sustainable future.
America’s Energy Dependence
Today’s visualization comes from Standard Lithium, and it outlines China’s dominance of the critical minerals needed for the new energy era.
Which imported minerals create the most risk for U.S. supply chains and national security?
Natural Resources and Development
Gaining access to natural resources can influence a nation’s ability to grow and defend itself. China’s growth strategy took this into account, and the country sourced massive amounts of raw materials to position the country as the number one producer and consumer of commodities.
By the end of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, China’s mining industry was largely in ruins. After the war, vast amounts of raw materials were required to rebuild the country.
In the late 1970s, the industry was boosted by China’s “reform and opening” policies, and since then, China’s mining outputs have increased enormously. China’s mining and material industries fueled the rapid growth of China from the 1980s onwards.
Supply Chain Dominance
A large number of Chinese mining companies also invest in overseas mining projects. China’s “going out” strategy encourages companies to move into overseas markets.
They have several reasons to mine beyond its shores: to secure mineral resources that are scarce in China, to gain access to global markets and mineral supply chains, and to minimize domestic overproduction of some mineral commodities.
This has led to China to become the leading producer of many of the world’s most important metals while also securing a commanding position in key supply chains.
As an example of this, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rare earth materials. The country produces approximately 94% of the rare earth oxides and around 100% of the rare earth metals consumed globally, with 50% going to domestic consumption.
U.S.-China Trade Tensions
The U.S. drafted a list of 35 critical minerals in 2018 that are vital to national security, and according to the USGS, the country sources at least 31 of the materials chiefly through imports.
China is the third largest supplier of natural resources to the U.S. behind Canada and Mexico.
|Rank||Country||U.S. Minerals Imports By Country ($US, 2018)|
This dependence on China poses a risk. In 2010, a territorial dispute between China and Japan threatened to disrupt the supply of the rare earth elements. Today, a similar threat still looms over trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
China’s scale of influence over critical minerals means that it could artificially limit supply and move prices in the global clean energy trade, in the same way that OPEC does with oil. This would leave nations that import their mineral needs in an expensive and potentially limiting spot.
Moon Shot: Building Domestic Supply and Production
Every supply chain starts with raw materials. The U.S. had the world’s largest lithium industry until the 1990s—but this is no longer the case, even though the resources are still there.
The U.S. holds 12% of the world’s identified lithium resources, but only produces 2% of global production from a single mine in Nevada.
There are a handful of companies looking to develop the U.S. lithium reserves, but there is potential for so much more. Less than 18% of the U.S. land mass is geologically mapped at a scale suited to identifying new mineral deposits.
The United States has the resources, it is just a question of motivation. Developing domestic resources can reduce its foreign dependence, and enable it to secure the new energy era.
In the clean energy economy of the future, critical minerals will be just as essential—and geopolitical—as oil is today.
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