The Evolution of Battery Technology
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The Evolution of Battery Technology

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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.

Presented by: Nevada Energy Metals, eCobalt Solutions Inc., and Great Lakes Graphite

The Battery Series - Part 1The Battery Series - Part 2The Battery Series - Part 3The Battery Series - Part 4The Battery Series - Part 5

The Battery Series: The Evolution of Battery Technology

The Battery Series - Part 1The Battery Series - Part 2The Battery Series - Part 3The Battery Series - Part 4The Battery Series - Part 5

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.

Sponsors
Nevada Energy Metals
eCobalt Solutions Inc.
Great Lakes Graphite

Battery Basics

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.

Lead-acid (1859)

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.

Lithium-Ion (1991)

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).

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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Which Companies Belong to the Elite Trillion-Dollar Club?

Only a few companies have broken the 13-digit market cap barrier to join the $1T+ club. Who’s a member, and who’s hot on their heels?

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Which Companies Belong to the Elite Trillion-Dollar Club?

Just a handful of publicly-traded companies have managed to achieve $1 trillion or more in market capitalization—only six, to be precise.

We pull data from Companies Market Cap to find out which familiar names are breaking the 13-digit barrier—and who else is waiting in the wings.

Footnote: All data referenced is as of August 17, 2021.

The Major Players in the Game

Apple and Microsoft are the only two companies to have shattered the $2T market cap milestone to date, leaving others in the dust. Apple was also the first among its Big Tech peers to ascend to the $1 trillion landmark back in 2018.

CompanyValuationCountryAge of company
Apple$2.48T🇺🇸 U.S.45 years (Founded 1976)
Microsoft$2.20T🇺🇸 U.S.46 years (Founded 1975)
Saudi Aramco$1.88T🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia88 years (Founded 1933)
Alphabet (Google)$1.83T🇺🇸 U.S.23 years (Founded 1998)
Amazon$1.64T🇺🇸 U.S.27 years (Founded 1994)
Facebook$1.01T🇺🇸 U.S.17 years (Founded 2004)

Facebook dipped in and out of the $1T+ club in July 2021, and continues its capricious movement. With just 17 years under its belt, it’s the youngest company ever to reach this valuation milestone—though not without some wild rides along the way.

State-owned oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is the only non-American company to make the trillion-dollar club. This makes it a notable outlier, as American companies typically dominate the leaderboard of the biggest corporations around the world.

Who Else Might Join the Trillion-Dollar Club?

Companies with a market capitalization above $500 billion are also few and far between. Within this next list of six companies, the world’s most valuable automaker Tesla is another strong candidate to eventually join the Four Comma Club.

As per usual, analyst views on Tesla are quite varied. That said, some on Wall Street are predicting that Tesla might reach $3 trillion in market cap within the decade, owing to significant current and projected demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and driverless systems.

CompanyValuationCountryAge of company
Tesla$659B🇺🇸 U.S.17 years (Founded 2003)
Berkshire Hathaway$655B🇺🇸 U.S.182 years (Founded 1839)
TSMC$576B🇹🇼 Taiwan34 years (Founded 1987)
Tencent$537B🇨🇳 China23 years (Founded 1998)
Visa$515B🇺🇸 U.S.63 years (Founded 1958)

Visa, one of the pioneers of consumer credit in the United States, continues to innovate even 63 years after its founding. In attempts to expand the reach of its already massive payments ecosystem, Visa is experimenting with acquisitions, and even dipping its toes into cryptocurrency with some success.

Whether the next company to join the trillion-dollar club comes from the U.S., from the tech industry, or out of left field, it’s clear that it has some pretty big shoes to fill.

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