The Decade of the Battery Revolution Starts Now

lithium-ion battery

Looking ahead to advances beyond lithium battery power

Since the invention of the lithium-ion battery in 1980 by John B. Goodenough and his research team, battery technology has remained mostly stagnant. Don’t get me wrong. The lithium-ion battery has seen improvements in chemistry and safety, and it has continued to increase its energy density by about 7% per year. But many think its potential has peaked.

These batteries can’t power flying vertical take-off jets such as Lilium or the new generation of electric vehicles and robotaxis. That kind of power requires batteries that hold a charge of 500 watts/kg. As of January 2020, we are currently around 330 Watts/kg. In order for the electric vehicle industry to grow and compete with combustible-engine cars, batteries will need to charge faster, last longer and cost less.

Colleges and universities around the world are heavily involved in research and development. They may be the ones to bring us the next great battery technology. But for-profit companies such as Tesla, Uber, Toyota, Mercedes, IBM, BMW, Panasonic, and Samsung are knuckling down on their research and development, and investing in hiring the best engineers. It is now a full-fledged race to create a battery chemistry that will power the future.

Potential Contenders

  • A solid-state lithium-Ion battery is being created by original lithium-ion battery inventor John B. Goodenough and his research team. This battery could double the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries, and charge and discharge 23,000 cycles.
  • Lithium-Sulphur batteries promise the lowest environmental impact and lower manufacturing costs. All while offering a range of 620 miles for electric vehicles and five days of smartphone power.
  • IBM teamed up with Mercedes to develop a new battery for electric vehicles. This battery is free from heavy and expensive metals, cheaper to manufacture, charges faster, has low flammability, and both higher power and energy densities. AND, the materials needed to make the battery can be sourced from seawater.
  • Big investments made by BMW and Daimler in a sand/silicon battery offers an upgrade on the current lithium-ion battery It uses silicon instead of graphite in the anodes. Their process converts sand into pure silicon. It promises a 20% boost in battery performance while continuing to us existing lithium-ion manufacturing processes.
  • At University of California Irvine team created a gold nanowire battery. It can charge over 200,000 times with no degradation by combining gold nanowires in a gel electrolyte.
  • Grabat Graphene batteries by Graphenano boast a 500-mile range for electric vehicles. These also charge and discharge 33 times faster than the current lithium-ion battery.
  • Laser-made micro supercapacitors manufactured in a process using lasers to etch electrode patterns into sheets of plastic. This apparently greatly reduces costs and results in a battery that charges 50 times faster than current lithium-ion batteries. It also discharges much slower than current supercapacitors.
  • Samsung’s graphene batteries use existing lithium-ion technology but add “graphene balls” in the process. The result is a 45% boost in capacity and the ability to recharge completely in 12 minutes. This is an 80% increase in charging time over current lithium-ion batteries.

Honorable Mention

  • The Jenax J. Flex battery can fold and is waterproof. Testers folded the battery over 200,000 times with no loss in performance. This will make it the ideal battery for clothing and other wearable technology.
  • Brought to you by the beautiful brain of Bill Gates is the urine battery. Bill’s life-long mission is to eliminate poverty. Apparently, a microbial fuel cell use urine and other micro-organisms and create enough energy to charge a smartphone.

These are only a few of the innovations in batteries. Dozens more exist that may supply the next generation’s evolution in transportation, medical science, habitation and fitness.

If I had to guess where the next big leap in battery technology will emerge, I would bet on graphene. Graphene’s electronic properties have already been proven. However, it’s thickness of one atom makes it very difficult to mass produce in a cost-efficient way. Graphene is also made from one of the earth’s most abundant and inexpensive resources: carbon. When mass produced efficiently, graphene will boost battery energy storage and charging speed and immediately used to bump the energy absorption in solar panels.

The current rate of exponential growth in technology is nearly impossible for most of us to grasp. But the decade from 2020 to 2030 should bring more technical change than we’ve seen up to now the whole of human history. And the scariest part, or best, depending on your point of view, is it’s only going to pick up speed.

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