By Irina Slav
The latest news in the battery space has been about alternatives to lithium-ion technology, which still dominates the space in electronics and cars but is being increasingly challenged from several directions, notably solid-state batteries. Now, a team of researchers has reported they have improved lithium-ion batteries in a way that could discourage some challengers.
In a paper published in Nature magazine, the team, led by Jeff Dahn from Dalhousie University, reports they had designed more battery cells with higher energy density without using the solid-state electrolyte that many believe is a necessary condition for enhanced density. What’s more, the battery cell the team designed demonstrated a longer life than some comparable alternatives.
The team from Dalhousie University was working with Tesla’s Canadian research and development team, Electrek notes in its report of the news, as well as the University of Waterloo. The EV maker is probably the staunchest proponent of lithium-ion technology for electric car batteries, so it would make sense for it to continue investing in research that would keep the technology’s dominance in the face of multiple challengers.
Recently, for example, Japanese researchers announced they had successfully found a substitute for the lithium ions used in batteries and this substitute was much cheaper and more abundant: sodium.
Last year, scientists from the Australian University of Wollongong announced they had solved a problem with sodium batteries that made them too expensive to produce, namely a lot of the other materials used in such an installation besides the sodium itself.
Sodium batteries are among the more advanced challengers to lithium ion dominance, but like other alternatives to Li-ion batteries, they have been plagued by persistent problems with their performance. Even so, work continues to make them competitive with lithium-ion technology.
This fact has probably made li-ion proponents such as Tesla, who have invested substantial amounts in the technology, double their efforts to improve their batteries’ performance or reduce their cost. As the most expensive component of an electric car, the battery is a top priority for R&D departments in the car-making industry. Earlier this year, German scientists said they had found a way to make lithium ion batteries charge much faster. Charing times are the second most important consideration after cost for potential EV buyers, and another priority for EV makers. What the scientists did was replace the cobalt oxide used in the cathode of a lithium ion battery with another compound, vanadium disulfide.
Millions of electric cars are expected to hit the roads in the coming years. From a certain perspective, the race to faster charging is the race that will make or break the long-term mainstream future of the EV, which, it turns out, is not as certain as some would think.
A J.D. Power survey recently revealed that people are not particularly crazy about EVs, and the reasons they are not crazy about them have to do a lot with the batteries: charging times and range, plus price. In this context, the battery improvement race could only intensify further.