The Battery Series
Part 5: The Future 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.
The Future of Battery Technology
This is the last installment of the Battery Series. For a recap of what has been covered so far, see the evolution of battery technology, the energy problem in context, the reasons behind the surge in lithium-ion demand, and the critical materials needed to make lithium-ion batteries.
There’s no doubt that the lithium-ion battery has been an important catalyst for the green revolution, but there is still much work to be done for a full switch to renewable energy.
The battery technology of the future could:
- Make electric cars a no-brainer choice for any driver.
- Make grid-scale energy storage solutions cheap and efficient.
- Make a full switch to renewable energy more feasible.
Right now, scientists see many upcoming battery innovations that have the promise to do this. However, the road to commercialization is long, arduous, and filled with many unexpected obstacles.
The Near-Term: Improving the Li-Ion
For the foreseeable future, the improvement of battery technology relies on modifications being made to already-existing lithium-ion technology. In fact, experts estimate that lithium-ions will continue to increase capacity by 6-7% annually for a number of years.
Here’s what’s driving those advances:
Tesla has already made significant advances in battery design and production through its Gigafactory:
- Better engineering and manufacturing processes.
- Wider and longer cell design allows more materials packaged into each cell.
- New battery cooling system allows to fit more cells into battery pack.
Most of the recent advances in lithium-ion energy density have come from manipulating the relative quantities of cobalt, aluminum, manganese, and nickel in the cathodes. By 2020, 75% of batteries are expected to contain cobalt in some capacity.
For scientists, its about finding the materials and crystal structures that can store the maximum amount of ions. The next generation of cathodes may be born from lithium-rich layered oxide materials (LLOs) or similar approaches, such as the nickel-rich variety.
While most lithium-ion progress to date has come from cathode tinkering, the biggest advances might happen in the anode.
Current graphite anodes can only store one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms – but silicon anodes could store 4.4 lithium atoms for every one silicon atom. That’s a theoretical 10x increase in capacity!
However, the problem with this is well-documented. When silicon houses these lithium ions, it ends up bloating in size up to 400%. This volume change can cause irreversible damage to the anode, making the battery unusable.
To get around this, scientists are looking at a few different solutions.
1. Encasing silicon in a graphene “cage” to prevent cracking after expansion.
2. Using silicon nanowires, which can better handle the volume change.
3. Adding silicon in tiny amounts using existing manufacturing processes – Tesla is rumored to already be doing this.
Lastly, a final improvement that is being worked on for the lithium-ion battery is to use a solid-state setup, rather than having liquid electrolytes enabling the ion transfer. This design could increase energy density in the future, but it still has some problems to resolve first, such as ions moving too slowing through the solid electrolyte.
The Long-Term: Beyond the Lithium-ion
Here are some new innovations in the pipeline that could help enable the future of battery technology:
Cathode: Porous carbon (Oxygen)
Promise: 10x greater energy density than Li-ion
Problems: Air is not pure enough and would need to be filtered. Lithium and oxygen form peroxide films that produce a barrier, ultimately killing storage capacity. Cycle life is only 50 cycles in lab tests.
Variations: Scientists also trying aluminum-air and sodium-air batteries as well.
Cathode: Sulphur, Carbon
Promise: Lighter, cheaper, and more powerful than li-ion
Problems: Volume expansion of up to 80%, causing mechanical stress. Unwanted reactions with electrolytes. Poor conductivity and poor stability at higher temperatures.
Variations: Many different variations exist, including using graphite/graphene, and silicon in the chemistry.
Vanadium Flow Batteries
Promise: Using vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy at scale. Can be expanded simply by using larger electrolyte tanks.
Problems: Poor energy-to-volume ratio. Very heavy; must be used in stationary applications.
Variations: Scientists are experimenting with other flow battery chemistries as well, such as zinc-bromine.
Battery Series: Conclusion
While the future of battery technology is very exciting, for the near and medium terms, scientists are mainly focused on improving the already-commercialized lithium-ion.
What does the battery market look like 15 to 20 years from now? It’s ultimately hard to say. However, it’s likely that some of these new technologies above will help in leading the charge to a 100% renewable future.
Thanks for taking a look at The Battery Series.
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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