5 Important Facts That You Should Know About Lithium ion batteries

May 17 2021

Lithium-ion batteries have nowadays become very popular. They can be found in electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops and also in electric vehicles. Although there are many different battery types available, lithium-based ones are in fact the best option to create the required energy for electric motors.

The main reasons to back this up are their superior energy storage capacity compared to other battery models, they can work with high currents, they don’t lose such capacity, they provide electrical energy in a reliable way, they don’t have a “memory effect” and they can have more cycles than lead-based batteries.

In the quest of moving from traditional fuel powered boats to 100% electric boats, lithium-ion batteries have become a necessity and are here to stay.

1) What is a Lithium ion battery?

A lithium-ion battery is a type of rechargeable battery generally available in portable electronic gadgets (such as mobile phones or smartwatches) and electric vehicles (like electric cars or electric boats).

Although you can find different types of batteries on the market, the principle by which they work remains the same. In short, when you connect an electronic device to a battery an electrochemical reaction occurs and electrical energy is produced.

In the past, nickel-cadmium was the only suitable battery for portable electronic devices but nowadays, lithium-ion has become the best option for battery power at an incredibly rapid speed. This growth is the result of lithium being the lightest metal available with the greatest electrochemical potential that also provides the biggest energy density for weight.

2) What are they made of?

A lithium-ion battery is made up by four components:

  • The cathode, which determines the capacity and voltage of the battery and is the source of the lithium ions.
  • The anode, which allows the electric current to flow through an external circuit. When the battery is charged, lithium ions are stored here.
  • The electrolyte, which is formed of salts, solvents and additives and serves as the conduit of lithium ions between the cathode and anode.
  • The separator, the physical barrier that keeps the cathode and anode apart.

3) Now that we have the key components, how does it work?

In the electrochemical reaction previously mentioned, lithium atoms in the anode are ionized and separated from their electrons. The lithium ions move from the anode (negative electrode) and pass through the electrolyte until they reach the cathode (positive electrode), where they recombine with their electrons and electrically neutralize.

So basically during discharge lithium ions move from the negative electrode through an electrolyte to the positive electrode to create power, and back when charging.

4) Pros & Cons

Because of its numerous advantages, lithium-ion batteries have had a huge success in the energy industry, but they do have their drawbacks.

Among the benefits we find:

  • Low maintenance
  • No memory effect (they don't have to be completely discharged before recharging as opposed to other batteries).
  • They can handle hundreds of charge/discharge cycles.
  • Generally lighter than other batteries.

Some of the cons would be:

  • If damaged or charged incorrectly, they can be a safety hazard because they contain flammable electrolytes that have to be handled with care.
  • Battery aging is something to take into consideration. After a year you can expect a minor decrease in battery performance and usually lithium ion batteries last two to three years. (By storing the batteries at 40% of their charge in a cool space when they are not in use you can minimize this effect).
  • They can be affected by temperature changes (high temperatures may affect them, reducing their overall lifetime).
  • They must not be discharged completely.

5) Lithium ion battery recycling

Electric vehicles are becoming a more popular option by the day. If we want to continue with this growth sustainably, battery recycling has to become one of the main focuses of the industry efforts. Up until now, the priorities regarding lithium-ion battery technology have been lowering costs, improving longevity and bettering charge capacities. However, we are actually working on the increasing demand for Li-ion battery recycling.

To name a few, these are the benefits of recycling lithium batteries:

  • Materials recovered from the recycling process could be used to make new batteries, lowering manufacturing costs significantly.
  • Recycling will reduce the quantity of materials (cobalt, manganese, nickel and other metals) that can potentially harm the environment due to leakage of old batteries that are buried when disposed.
  • Recycling reduces environmental harm by reducing the amount of mining for virgin battery materials.

By 2030, the EU has estimated that 30 million electric vehicles will be circulating in Europe.  With the industry constantly working on improving lithium-ion batteries, there are some encouraging developments on the horizon that will enhance energy storage, minimize costs and carbon footprint in battery production, increase performance and most importantly raise the growing demand for lithium ion battery recycling.

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