How automotive battery technology is shaping the future

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15th Jun, 2020

When it comes to battery technology, the future of the automotive battery is looking very bright and we can look forward to some bigger and better technologies in the years to come!

The past few decades have seen an increased need for greener and cleaner battery technology. The battery industry has heard the public's desire for more environmentally friendly technologies and has responded accordingly. However, there is still a lot of work to do in the future.

The majority of batteries produced today are still of the Lead Acid type. They are far less expensive to produce and are very efficiently re-cycled.

A battery, in its simplest form, is essentially a pack of one or more cells. Each one has a positive electrode (cathode) and a negative electrode (anode). Electrolyte covers these Grids and may be presented as wet lead acid, AGM absorbed glass mat or in a GEL form.  Batteries differ according to the materials and additives used for the components and this determines the amount of energy that can be stored, its output, the amount of power it can supply and how often it can be recharged and discharged. This is known as the cycling capacity.

Further enhancements in the lead acid battery include:

  • EFB – enhanced flooded batteries (mainly for use in start/ stop vehicles)
  • AGM – absorbed glass mat whereby the electrolyte is absorbed into glass fibrous mats. This technology greatly increases performance and rechargeability of the battery.
  • MIXTECH – where a special filter is constructed within the battery. This facilitates 360 degree mixing of the electrolyte with natural movement from the vehicle. By ensuring universal mixing of the electrolyte, battery performance is enhanced and allows for increased cycling capabilities, and quicker recharging. In short, better performance and longer life.

Battery industry experts are continuously researching newer and better ways to improve battery chemistry and ones that are more efficient and cost-effective. One of these improvements is a new generation lithium-ion battery.

Lithium-ion batteries consist of various chemistries that differ by brand. These chemicals are all optimized so that only the most efficient positive and negative charged materials are now used. Currently, lithiated metal oxides and phosphates are very commonly used for positively charged chemicals, while graphite (as well as lithiated titanium oxides and silicon) are widely utilized for negatively charged chemicals.

Lithium-ion technology is expected to reach a peak within the next year or two as experts believe that materials and battery designs have been optimized as much as possible.

There are many advantages to be had with the newer, state-of-the-art lithium-ion technology. Advantages include: they are much lighter in weight, the entire energy reserve may be used (i.e. they may be able to be discharged 100% - unlike good lead acid batteries at 50% ) and they are capable of recharging much quicker than lead acid batteries. They also have much higher cycle life capabilities. Disadvantages include cost and the fact that they cannot be recharged at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius. (unless there is a mechanism for warming them)

 

In the coming years, battery technology experts believe that we can expect more advanced lithium-ion batteries and, later on, solid-state batteries. These batteries will be ideal for various applications, such as renewables and transportation where there is a great need for high power, high energy and safer batteries.

 

Lithium-Sulphur batteries are also a great leap in the advancement of batteries. Unlike lithium-ion batteries which store their lithium-ions in stable host structures during the discharge and charging process, Lithium-Sulphur batteries have no host structures. Instead, when they discharge, the lithium negative terminal is consumed and sulphur is then converted into various chemical materials.

 

This new and technologically advanced type of battery has the benefit of using very lightweight active materials. It makes use of sulphur in the cathode and metallic lithium in the anode, which explains why the theoretical energy density of a lithium-sulphur battery is extremely high. In fact, it is four times more energy-dense than a regular lithium-ion battery. This attractive characteristic makes the lithium-sulphur battery a great choice for aviation.

 

The future of automotive battery technology can expect a lot of advances in lithium-sulphur in the coming decade. This technology is based on a solid-state electrolyte and its technical path will yield more density in terms of energy. Furthermore, it will be much more durable and will offer many more advantages over liquid-based lithium-sulphur batteries (which typically have a short lifespan as well as a high self-discharge rate).

This new, sulphur-ion technology will be in addition to current solid-state lithium-ion since it has a fantastic gravimetric energy density.

In terms of the timeline for new battery technology, the good news is that a lot of the major technological barriers have already been broken down and battery experts have made much progress, to the extent that they now have full scale prototypes.

Newer batteries for applications that need a much longer battery life should reach the battery market a short time after the solid-state lithium-ion battery.

Here at Enertec Batteries (Pty) Ltd, we are looking forward to the advent of solid-state batteries for many reasons. These batteries will revolutionize the industry for many reasons.

With modern lithium-ion batteries, the charged ions flow from the cathode to the anode via the liquid electrolyte solution (this is also known as ionic conductivity). All solid-state batteries replace their liquid electrolyte with a solid substance, which enables the lithium ions to move inside. Although this is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, because of extensive research conducted over the past decade, new types of solid electrolytes have been identified. These new solid electrolytes have high levels of ionic conductivity, similar to a liquid electrolyte.

Currently, battery research is focused on inorganic compounds and polymers, whose aim it is to connect with the properties of stability, durability and conductivity.

Here at Enertec Batteries (Pty) Ltd, we welcome all these new advances in the automotive battery technology field and, if you would like to keep up to date with these advances, you could always consult our website regularly for the latest product offerings.