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What Gives Lithium-ion a Tough Competition

By CIOReview | Friday, February 14, 2020

FREMONT, CA: Today, lithium is at the top of the food chain. According to a report by Wood Mackenzie, lithium-ion batteries made 99 percent of all battery deployments in Q4 2018. However, this is about to change soon. Several companies are developing chemistries and novel technologies to counter the limitations of lithium-ion batteries such as high cost, overheating, and raw material sourcing. Over the next decade, new battery technologies will disrupt the market, ushering the next wave of high-performance batteries.

Researchers and companies are focused on using silicon anodes instead of traditional graphite anodes. The Si-dominant anodes can bind Li-ion 25 times more as compared to the graphite ions. However, through this process, the batteries hold low electrical conductivity, large volumetric fluctuations during lithiation, and a slow-diffusion rate. Consequently, the batteries suffer from instability of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) and Si pulverization.

Researchers use two methods to overcome these challenges. First, they use nanotechnology where various nano-sized anodes are used, which have improves cycle life, high surface area, and rate stability compared to bulk Si anodes. The anodes can handle lithiation and delithiation without cracking. Second, they use carbon coating, which is a combination of nanosized Si and carbon material, to generate high-performance Si/C nanocomposite anodes. Researchers also use doped carbons with heteroatoms as coating agents which bind Li-ions more powerfully than carbon atoms. This leads to excellent electrochemical performance with stable electrical conductivity.

Researchers are putting a lot of effort into generating high-performance proton exchange membrane (PEM). The challenges with PEM fuel cells are high cost, transportation, and storage of hydrogen gas. Researchers at RMIT University admitted that proton battery is technically feasible. The battery contains a carbon electrode to store hydrogen or protons from water and a reversible PEM fuel cell to generate electricity from the hydrogen. The design of the battery is innovative as it uses affordable activated carbon for the electrode. Activated carbon is abundant and structurally stable for hydrogen storage and very little liquid acid inside the porous material. It is a revolutionary step for efficient hydrogen-powered energy production, but its commercialization is still farfetched. The team of researchers predicts that the battery will be available in the market within five to 10 years.

One of the fierce competitors for lithium-ion batteries is nickel-zinc batteries, which are affordable, safe, environment-friendly, and non-toxic. However, the biggest hurdle in their commercialization is their low life. Chinese researchers from the Dalian University of Technology are actively addressing this problem by developing a breakthrough in-situ cutting technique to improve the performance of Ni-Zn batteries. The team used the in-situ cutting technique and developed a novel grapheme-ZnO hybrid electrode, which can cut graphene directly into short nanoribbons. The Zn atoms get anchored to the graphene surfaces due to the interatomic interactions. This interaction solves the Zn electrode dissolution, dendrite formation, and performance issues. These batteries show immense potential for widespread commercial applications in electric vehicles and energy storage with the ongoing research and approach taken by the companies.

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