on July 11th, 2022

Batteries are on top of the list when it comes to sustainability trends, thanks to their potential to store energy derived from sustainable energy like solar power.

Batteries have also changed a lot since their invention, and engineers now have endless opportunities to harness the power of battery cells in a milliard of applications.

To put it simply, batteries are energy storage devices that are able to convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Batteries use chemical compounds that either liberate or accept electrons or ions within electrochemical cells during a reaction.

Graphene-enabled Li-ion battery. (a) Schematic image of the symmetrically constructed secondary battery based on the flat and (b)
patterned MLG. MLG/p-MLG acted as an electrochromic layer (anode). Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide operated as a charge counter
electrode (cathode), providing a reversible electrochemical reaction in devices operating in the transmissive/reflective modes.

Making it portable

The appeal of Lithium-Ion batteries is their size. It can be small or much larger and be used to power different things. It means its application in the world can be varied.

For the batteries to work however the following components are needed: 

  • A cathode or the positive electrode: The source determines the battery’s capacity and voltage.
  • An Anode or the negative electrode: This stores and releases ions through the external unit of the battery.
  • Electrolytes: This is the medium that transports ions between the cathode and anode of the battery.
  • A separator: This is the barrier that prevents the cathode and anode to come into contact with each other.

With these components’ batteries function properly, and advances in technology mean that batteries in 2022 charge faster and can be used for longer.

The batteries have also become synonymous with sustainability, due to their use as a means to offset carbon. Most popularly though Electric Vehicles that are slowly becoming the norm on roads all over the world.

The use of Lithium-ion batteries

The variety of uses of these batteries has a lot of range and is used in a variety of industries or for personal use.

Photo by KBO Bike on Unsplash
  • Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS)

Li-ion batteries in this context provide emergency backup power in case of power loss or fluctuation.

They are useful for office equipment like computers, as well as IT servers, which need to keep running in case of power interruption to prevent data loss.

They can also ensure routers can run for a space of time providing internet access and it's also incredibly important in the healthcare industry as a safe alternative to guarantee consistent power supply to life-saving medical equipment. A UBS can vary in size.

  • Marine Vehicles and boats

Li-ion batteries are a leading alternative to gasoline and lead-acid batteries in powering work or tug boats and leisure boats on the ocean.

These provide a quiet and efficient power source and can also be used to provide electricity to appliances inside the boat or yacht while it is on the dock. It has a minute carbon footprint and like EVs (electric vehicles) offers many benefits to the user.

  • Solar Energy Storage

Li-ion batteries can store solar energy in solar panels as they can be charged quickly. The batteries are lighter, more compact, and can hold higher amounts of energy compared to lead-acid batteries.

Although they need replacement down the line, these batteries can power buildings or homes, and the demand for these in terms of the built environment is increasing.

  • Personal mobility

Forget big cars. If you want quick and efficient transport in urban spaces scooters or bikes powered with Li-ion batteries are revolutionizing mobility. Many European cities offer these scooters to be used in urban spaces with easy ways for people to access and use scooters. It means that civil engineering now includes motorways for use of personal modes of transport powered by batteries. Shared scooter schemes are fast becoming a norm, with many European and Asian countries allowing city dwellers and tourists to rent and use shared scooters as they traverse individual city spaces.

  • Electric Vehicles

Few uses of Li-ion batteries are quite as followed as its use in EVs. These vehicles are made with advanced electric-related components for ensuring their long-lasting and efficacy runs

The facility could produce 25,000kg of green hydrogen every day in the first phase of operations, with the potential to scale up to 100,000kg per day. 

It is seen as one of the only effective ways to decarbonize Australia. 

Engineers should make a note of hydrogen being part of their line of work, as the number of investments in green hydrogen has risen from none in 202 to 121 gigawatts across 136 projects in planning and development phases totaling over $500 billion in 2021.

Companies across many countries have formed alliances to increase production fifty-fold in the next six years. There are mega-plants now slated for Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Portugal, the U.K., and the U.S. The most ambitious plan is planned for the Pilbara region in Australia. 

Recycling Batteries

The uptake of Lithium-ion batteries also means there are more batteries that reach the end of their life. Effectively recycling these are becoming a new area of study, and engineers can also play a major role in ensuring the effective recycling of batteries.

The study Lithium battery recycling in Australia: Current status and opportunities for developing a new industry lead and nickel/cadmium battery recycling is well-established and well-regulated in Australia. While economically feasible Lithium-based batteries and their recycling are not well-established due to limitations for recycling.

But this is changing.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) requires members have a system in place to take back batteries at the end-of-their life. However, many EV batteries have yet to reach end-of-life in Australia and therefore this market is presently undeveloped.

The end-of-life of most batteries is expected to be approximately 10 years when batteries could be expected to have 70 to 80 % of their capacity.
At this capacity, this will reduce the EV range, and will require replacement. Currently, almost all EV batteries are exported from Australia for end-of-life processing, it is unlikely that these batteries will be immediately processed for recycling in future. Most car manufacturers are exploring new energy storage markets for old EV batteries, otherwise known as “second life”, given their capacity levels will still be greater than 50%.

It means that batteries cannot simply be discarded, and regulation is emerging on how to safely dispose of the batteries, or find new uses for them. Batteries can also be stripped, which is important for recycling materials to use in other engineering practices.

What is important is that when done correctly the recycling of these batteries doesn’t have to be a hazard to the environment, and coupled with its reduced carbon footprint it's safe to assume to battery technology is set to improve greatly as the world races to save the environment.

Another exciting development was published in the Joule magazine at the end of 2021. A group of researchers established that if a cathode alone is recycled using a new method, the recycled batteries can perform as well as new ones. This discovery is very promising because the whole recycling process is a lot easier when only a cathode needs to be refurbished. Additional benefits include a shorter cycle and lower use of chemicals and resources, and because this happens on a smaller scale and without using new materials, it can be accomplished domestically in many countries, reducing transportation costs and increasing local jobs - a win-win situation for everyone. A start-up company Ascend Elements, founded by one of the researchers, Dr. Yan Wang, is currently setting up an industrial application of the technology.

Another exciting aspect of battery recycling comes from Battery Swapping.

The Republic of India is racing toward a high penetration of electric vehicles - and since the market is booming there needs to be solutions on what to do with batteries that have neared their end-of-life.

The Indian government announced initiatives for the adoption of electric vehicles in India, and one major aspect of this adoption is a battery swapping policy.

Within the plan, batteries are provided as a service or leasing. As a result, consumers won't have to buy high-priced batteries and exchange them for new ones when the battery in a vehicle needs to be replaced.

If run well, it means that recycling batteries or finding other uses for them is better controlled, and considering over 1 million Electric Vehicles were bought in India in 2021, the plan makes sense to ensure batteries are kept safe after use.

On a humanity side, the EV Battery swapping policy was introduced to bring down the upfront cost of the electric vehicles so that the adoption could be made easier.

Sodium-ion Batteries

Sodium-ion batteries are considered a promising alternative to lithium-based battery technologies.

Peng, Jian & Wang, Jinsong & Yi, Haocong & Hu, WenJing & Yu, Yonghui & Jinwen, Yin & Shen, Yi & Liu, Yi & Luo, Jiahuan & Xu, Yue & Wei, Peng & Li, Yuyu & Jin, Yu & Ding, Yu & Miao, Ling & Jiang, Jianjun & Han, Jiantao & Huang, Yunhui. (2018). Sodium Ion Batteries: A Dual-Insertion Type Sodium-Ion Full Cell Based on High-Quality Ternary-Metal Prussian Blue Analogs (Adv. Energy Mater. 11/2018). Advanced Energy Materials. 8. 1870048. 10.1002/aenm.201870048.

Despite the new research in this field, the implementation of this technology has been practically hindered due to a lack of high energy density cathode materials with a long lifecycle available.

According to the paper Perspective: Design of cathode materials for sustainable sodium-ion batteries high energy demand has highlighted the role of energy storage systems.

While lithium-ion batteries have been the standard it is changing due to other batteries that can be used for storage purposes.

Cathode materials in sodium-ion batteries are mainly based on the same insertion chemistry as lithium-ion analogues, with fluorophosphate and layered oxides being the basis of the first prototypes.

However, on the anode side, the impossibility of intercalating bare sodium ions is a drawback for this technology and an essential driver for research. In this context: high-capacity anodes such as phosphorus and alloys, materials that operate at low potentials like titanate, hard carbon and environmentally friendly organic compounds, have been investigated.

Sodium-ion batteries are effective, and according to an article published by PV Magazine Sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries offer a superior environmental and safety solution coupled with better raw material costs than lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Eventually, these batteries, in the future, will promise stronger performance and improvements in density and cycle rate.

It's expected that this technology is a complementary technology to Li-ion, rather than a competitive one. The two battery technologies have a lot in common not only in how it works but also in how it is manufactured and used in equipment.

What are Quantum Batteries?

Quantum computing has been a buzzword for some time, now quantum batteries are making a leap into consciousness.

The possibility of using quantum resources for technological purposes is currently an active research field, in which quantum batteries have emerged as promising tools for thermodynamic control at the quantum scale.

Simply explained a quantum battery is a quantum mechanical system that behaves as an efficient energy storage device. Its realization is motivated by the fact that genuine quantum effects such as entanglement squeezing can typically boost the performances of classical protocols.

An article published on physicsworld.com explains that quantum mechanical effects create the possibility to create systems with an energy absorption capacity that increases as it is made bigger.

The effect is known as super absorption, and the possibility exists to create a battery that charges faster as its size increases.

Modern solar cells and cameras stores energy of various wavelengths, but the possibility of a quantum battery demonstrates that light absorption is limited - but can grow in the near future.

When it is achieved batteries can charge in new and exciting ways.

References

Kovalska, Evgeniya & Pavlov, Ihor & Deminskyi, Petro & Baldycheva, Anna & Ilday, F. & Kocabas, Coskun. (2018). NLL-Assisted Multilayer Graphene Patterning. ACS Omega. 3. 1546-1554. 10.1021/acsomega.7b01853.

Asef, P., Milan, M., Lapthorn, A., & Padmanaban, S. Future Trends and Aging Analysis of Battery Energy Storage Systems for Electric Vehicles. Sustainability, 13(24), 13779. https://doi.org/10.3390/SU132413779

Harper, G., Sommerville, R., Kendrick, E., Driscoll, L., Slater, P., Stolkin, R., … Anderson, P. (2019). Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles. Nature, 575(7781), 75–86. https://doi.org/10.1038/S41586-019-1682-5

King S, Boxall NJ, Bhatt AI (2018) Lithium battery recycling in Australia, CSIRO, Australia

Javier Carrasco, Jer´onimo R. Maze, Carla Hermann-Avigliano, and Felipe Barra. Department of Physics, Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile Institute of Physics, Pontificia Universidad Cat´ olica de Chile, Santiago, Chile Research Center for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, Pontificia Universidad Cat´ olica de Chile, Santiago, Chile ANID - Millennium Science Initiative Program - Millennium Institute for Research in Optics (MIRO), Chile. November 1, 2021

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2542435121004335

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The latest news

EIT News

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical Engineering is vast, and if you were from a career perspective to box it in, it won’t be an easy task. Prospective careers for qualified mechanical engineers include work... Read more
Engineering Stories From Around the World

Engineering Stories From Around the World

In our July EIT Newsletter, we ran a competition, inviting newsletter subscribers to tell us about their lives, careers and what engineering means to them. We are glad to announce... Read more
EIT News

What is Graduate Diploma, and do I need it?

If you completed a degree, or you are working as an engineer at the level of Engineering Technologist after you graduated you may have pondered how, when and why to... Read more
EIT News

On the Road To Becoming a Civil Engineer

Cities, roads, and life would be near impossible to imagine without the work of Civil Engineers. The discipline is one of many hats – and also a fascinating field to... Read more
EIT | Engineering Institute of Technology