In 2021, the battery industry was booming. Advancements in technology enabled more powerful and longer-lasting batteries, leading to a surge in their adoption in areas from utilities to consumer electronics, medical applications and the automotive industry.
Today I want to talk about these advances and shed some light on what we can expect this year.
Engineers at the University of Texas have developed a sodium-sulfur battery that overcomes one of the biggest obstacles to the technology’s commercial viability: dendrite growth on the anode, which can cause degradation and even explosions.
Their electrolyte prevents sulfur dissolution and solves shuttling and dendrite problems, enabling a longer battery life cycle. Researchers are testing the model on larger batteries. If they succeed, these new batteries could be used in cars, or for storing energy from renewable sources. Unlike lithium, sodium is cheaper, easier to procure and eco-friendly.
Improved anode structure
Lithium-ion diffusion rates are the speeds at which lithium ions move through a material. They are important for battery performance, as the faster the ions can move, the faster the battery can charge and discharge. Different materials have different diffusion rates, and choosing the right material is critical for optimizing battery performance.
Lithium-ion diffusion rates of typical electrode materials are limited, making fast charging a key requirement for the next generation of lithium-ion batteries. One way to overcome this limitation is to use nano-sized active electrode material, but this approach also has shortcomings: It reduces the battery’s density and stability.
Scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have found a way to improve the conventional Li-ion battery by replacing graphite in anodes with a new material, nickel niobate.
This complex oxide has a high diffusion coefficient, which means the new iterations can charge and discharge 10 times faster than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, the material is stable and doesn’t change volume a lot when it is lithiated, which leads to 81% of battery capacity retention after 20,000 cycles.
Finally, due to nickel niobate’s high density and capacity, batteries that contain it are lighter and more compact than their traditional counterparts. Scientists predict that this kind of battery could be used to power electric machinery, heavy electric vehicles or other devices that require fast charging capabilities. However, there are a few hurdles that need to be overcome before nickel niobate batteries see commercial application in electric cars.
A solid-state battery uses solid materials to store and conduct electricity. It is often seen as a potential replacement for traditional lithium-ion battery because it’s safer and longer-lasting.
In 2021, a team of engineers at the University of California, San Diego, created a battery using a silicone anode and a sulfide-based solid electrolyte. Silicone is superior to traditionally used graphite because it offers 10 times the storage capacity.
The reason it wasn’t implemented before is due to the degradation of silicone anodes that occurs when liquid electrolytes are used. Replacing them with solid sulfur-based electrolyte eliminated this issue and created exciting opportunities to make a commercially viable product with higher energy capacity, lower production costs and a better safety rating.
Toyota Motor Corp. TM, -2.13% and Volkswagen Group VLKAF, -0.19% have shown interest in this kind of battery. However, several major problems need to be solved first. One such issue is dendrites, growths that form on solid-state batteries. They shorten the lifespan of a battery, reduce its efficacy, and can even cause it to short-circuit and catch fire.
However, a solution to that problem was offered last year in a joint study by scientists from MIT, Texas A&M University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University. The study describes a battery made of material with self-healing properties, which wraps around dendrites as they form instead of cracking and breaking, as other materials do.
As for the application of these results, scientists are optimistic.
“We think we can translate this approach to really any solid-state lithium-ion battery,” says the co-author of the study, Venkatasubramanian Viswanathan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “We think it could be used immediately in cell development for a wide range of applications, from handheld devices to electric vehicles to electric aviation.”
Although there have been many more breakthroughs and discoveries this year, solid-state battery advancements are the ones suppliers, buyers and manufacturers should watch out for in 2022. A global graphite deficit is expected this year, and the battery sector should expand by 30%. Since the U.S. has no manufacturing plants capable of large-scale graphite production at this point, turning to a superior type of battery that doesn’t rely on this material could help carmakers and manufacturers to not only sidestep supply-related problems, but also to enjoy the benefits of participating in a growing market.
It will be interesting to see how 2022 pans out.
Finally, let’s not forget supercapacitors — revenue for these is expected to exceed $5 billion by 2027, and we’ll likely see some sort of a hybrid supercapacitor battery, which would offer insane charging speeds and long-term storage capabilities.
French company NAWA Technologies has already implemented this hybrid model in its prototype NAWA Racer motorcycle. According to NAWA, the ultracapacitor battery pack recharges in only two minutes, while the lithium-ion pack can charge up to 80% in one hour. The motorbike has a range of 186 miles and can reach 0-60 mph in just three seconds. Now imagine these stats with new and improved battery packs of the future.
A Tesla with 750 miles of range
Minutes after wrapping up this article, I was made aware of the latest breakthrough in battery research: A prototype that extended a retrofitted Tesla TSLA, -11.56% Model S’s range to an unbelievable 752 miles on a single charge. Tesla’s longest-range production Model S has 405 miles of range.
In addition to eliminating range anxiety, this kind of battery performance also sets a new benchmark for the automotive industry. The battery is made by Michigan startup Our Next Energy (ONE) and comes in two flavors: Aries and Gemini. The first one will be used in commercial trucks later this year, while the second will most likely be installed in consumer-grade EVs. The company aims to showcase the production prototype of Gemini in 2023.
I usually conclude my articles with a question, and this one is no exception. To all the bikers out there: Would you buy a NAWA racer or a gas-guzzler with similar features? Let me know in the comment section below.