The world is going electric, and powering that switch to electric are lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries have long been the choice of EV carmakers, due to many favourable factors in play.
However, with many thinking to put it under scrutiny, there are other options that are being considered.
Let us understand how do lithium-ion batteries work, why is it the top choice for carmakers around the world and what is it that makes a car's battery stand out.
Why Do We Need Lithium Batteries?
Lithium batteries are a favourite amongst EV manufacturers and other industries alike, due to their long life compared to different battery types.
Apart from this, lithium-ion batteries tend to have a higher energy per unit mass, in comparison to other electric energy storage systems. Lithium-ion batteries also have a higher power-to-weight ratio, high energy efficiency, and good performance in higher temperatures.
Moreover, from a sustainability point of view, most of the components in a lithium-ion battery can be replaced or recycled.
How Much Lithium Does an EV Require?
The battery pack of an EV for a single electric car requires about 8 kilograms of lithium.
According to data, lithium mines around the world produced 130,000 metric tonnes of lithium, which is a peak in the production of lithium around the world.
Keeping the 8-kilogram lithium per electric car metric in mind, the viably extractable lithium reserves are sufficient to power 184.4 million electric vehicles.
Moreover, with the latest lithium reserves found in Resai, Jammu & Kashmir, the domestic battery development process can be expedited even more. The extraction process has already begun at the site.
What's the Issue With Lithium Batteries?
We're way beyond the peak production of lithium-ion batteries now. The spurge in lithium mining and extraction is due to the surge in the demand for EVs.
With greater demand, come economic viability, better resources and technological improvements. There has been a rise in the demand for lithium-ion batteries, but there are a few concerns that are being cited around the same.
One of the pitfalls is actually conducting feasibility studies on all the lithium reserves around the world. While the studies are underway, and with every study the number of reserves around the world, available for lithium mining is becoming clearer.
Furthermore, the lithium reserves are located in places very far from one another. So, extracting the lithium and then putting them in the EVs are two different tasks to take care of.
Till that happens, carmakers around the world are ensuring that the demand-supply equilibrium doesn't get hampered.
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Do We Have Lithium EV Battery Alternatives?
While carmakers are currently relying on lithium-ion batteries, there are several alternatives that are being figured out along with it.
In order to ensure that any constraints pertaining to lithium don't affect the EV supply chain, several alternatives with similar properties are being considered.
Some of the factors that make the perfect EV battery component are power density, shelf life, safety in various conditions, existing manufacturing capabilities, technological readiness, and costs.
Solid State Batteries
Solid-state batteries, as the name suggests, have a solid electrolyte, instead of a liquid electrolyte as in lithium-ion batteries.
Due to a solid electrolyte, there are fewer chances of leakage and corrosion. This leads to lesser efforts going into determining and researching battery design costs. Moreover, they also have a smaller structure which leads to reduced weight.
Solid electrolytes also stand out from liquid electrolytes, considering they are non-flammable when heated. SSBs tend to have a higher energy density and high-voltage batteries with longer shelf lives.
Due to a higher energy density, battery manufacturers can optimise their manufacturing as they'd be able to develop more batteries with lesser raw materials.
Another feasible alternative to come into the picture is sodium-ion batteries (SIB). They have been in development since the 1980s, and have undergone a lot of research and development.
They are pretty similar to lithium-ion batteries when it comes to their manufacturing process and structure the charger-ion is sodium instead of lithium.
One of the advantages of sodium-ion batteries would be that the need for expensive metals will be reduced greatly and bring down the chances of fires. SIBs are the perfect contenders for low-cost electric vehicles and several energy storage requirements.
Flow batteries pose another reliable and commercially viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries. They are commercially viable for long-term storage requirements.
Flow batteries consist of catholyte and anolyte solutions in two different tanks, which charge/discharge the battery by pumping these different solutions through a compartment in the middle.
One great capability of flow batteries is that the power can be scaled independently of each other. This enables battery developers to increase the duration for which the energy is stored without increasing the size of the battery.
Recycling, Reinventing & Restoring EV Batteries
Electric vehicles are relatively new. This means that most industries are still looking into newer, better ways to look into their battery development technologies.
There have been considerable developments internationally when it comes to the development of lithium-ion battery alternatives.
The usual lifespan of a lithium-ion battery is around 5-10 years. This means that after 10 years, the amount of EV batteries reaching the end of their lifespan is going to surge around 2030.
This calls for the need of developing technologies that focus on recycling the existing batteries, which will further bring down the requirement of relying on manufacturing newer lithium-ion batteries.
Adding to this, a more robust and organized electric vehicle market can mean that the cars and batteries are not being discarded, and utilized again.