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Ten years left to redesign lithium-ion batteries

July 25, 2018

By Paul Homewood


h/t Dave Ward



Others have already investigated the potential cobalt cliff. Now another paper comes to the same conclusions:




Electric vehicles need powerful, light and affordable batteries. The best bet is commercial lithium-ion cells — they are relatively compact and stable. But they are still too bulky and expensive for widespread use.

The performance of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries has improved steadily for two decades. The amount of energy stored in a litre-sized pack has more than tripled, from around 200 watt hours per litre (Wh l–1) to more than 700 Wh l–1. Costs have fallen by 30 times, to around US$150 per kilowatt hour (kWh). But that still exceeds the $100 per kWh goal for affordability set by the US Department of Energy. And batteries that are powerful enough for an electric car (50–100 kWh) still weigh around 600 kilograms and take up 500 litres of space.

The pace of advance is slowing as conventional technology approaches fundamental limits. The amount of charge that can be stored in gaps within the crystalline structures of electrode materials is nearing the theoretical maximum. Projected market growth will not lower prices substantially — the markets are already large.

Worse, the materials used in electrodes, notably rare metals such as cobalt and nickel, are scarce and expensive. Surging battery production has almost quadrupled wholesale prices of cobalt over the past two years, from $22 to $81 per kilogram.

High demand and prices are already encouraging some producers to cut corners and violate environmental and safety regulations. For example, in China, dust released from graphite mines has damaged crops and polluted villages and drinking water1. In Africa, some mine owners exploit child workers and skimp on protective equipment such as respirators. Small artisanal mines, where ores are extracted by hand, often flout laws. Some companies, including BMW, follow strict policies to verify their cobalt suppliers2. Many do not.

Alternative types of electrode based on cheap, common metals such as iron and copper need to be developed urgently. In our view, the most promising candidates involve ‘conversion materials’, such as copper or iron fluorides and silicon. These store lithium ions by bonding chemically with them. But the technology is still at an early stage. Problems with stability, charging speed and manufacture must be overcome.

We call on materials scientists, engineers and funding agencies to prioritize the research and development of electrodes based on abundant elements. Otherwise, the roll-out of electric cars will stall within a decade.


Read the full story here.

Human ingenuity has a habit of finding a way past cliffs and peaks, and no doubt some alternative way will be found to avoid this latest pitfall.

But what a crazy world we live in when we so readily toss workable technology away, to embrace something else which patently does not yet work and may quickly become unsustainable anyway.

  1. July 25, 2018 9:33 pm

    Solid state batteries may be viable but – they may not be.

  2. Joe Public permalink
    July 25, 2018 9:38 pm

    The energy stored in Li-ion battery ~0.7kWh/litre.

    Versus approx 9.7kWh/litre for petrol – 14x as much v/v

    The former is far heavier, too. Petrol’s density is 0.737 kg/litre; Diesel’s is
    0.820–0.950 kg/litre

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      July 25, 2018 11:05 pm

      Joe Public:
      And Wh/litre is a useless measure. It is the power to weight ratio they should quote, or would that make batteries look worse?
      There is also the problem of poor performance at low temperatures.

      • Anders Valland permalink
        July 26, 2018 8:14 am

        You cannot give the power to weight ratio for a battery, that is meaningless. That is like asking the circumference of a rubber band.You can give power to weight for a drivetrain.

        Energy density is the measure we use, and it is expressed in two ways: energy per volume or energy per mass. It is important to look at both, and hydrogen is the prime example of why: it has a huge energy density per mass, but very poor energy density per volume. Actually, some of the promising new battery technologies will surpass hydrogen in energy per volume.

  3. Athelstan permalink
    July 25, 2018 10:54 pm

    b Li – mey!

    If memory serves, this so called report (above) could have been lifted right out of one of the threads on this blog – there are some very sharp (scientific) minds – collectively hereabouts – it looks to me like (Nature Turcheniuk et al) they read it here and cut and pasted straight into their report.

    PH, you should do ’em for plagiarism.

  4. Jeff permalink
    July 25, 2018 11:42 pm

    Predictions of shortage of battery metals is not a legitimate reason against their use, in my opinion.
    If those metals do become too rare, then batteries will be too expensive and other technologies will grow faster.
    Let the market rule, with little government subsidy.
    Predictions like these are usually wong anyway, (eg peak oil)

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      July 26, 2018 7:03 am

      By those (free market) rules, no one would bother with solar panels, windmills, or evs!

      Which is the situation we should be in.

  5. John F. Hultquist permalink
    July 26, 2018 5:02 am

    Human ingenuity has a habit of finding a way past cliffs and peaks, . . .
    Good point.
    And the concept that made Julian Simon famous.

  6. July 26, 2018 5:35 am

    I don’t think we should worry about this. Obviously we have brilliant politicians who will pass laws and create regulations which will overcome any scientific or engineering problems. A few amendments to Ohm’s Law and the laws of thermodynamics will resolve any issues.

    • Athelstan permalink
      July 26, 2018 5:48 am

      Politicians, defying the laws of gravity and rewriting and correcting the universe since time immemorial………………… and men – who needs them huh?

      • dave permalink
        July 26, 2018 6:01 am


        And degraded, so-called scientists, pretending they can enable us to defy the Laws of the Universe – provided we give them enough money to “develop new electrodes” (Forsooth!) They are worse than the Alchemists. Totally lip-curling, contemptible, weevils. Not part of the solution; part of the problem.

      • Athelstan permalink
        July 26, 2018 6:16 am

        Next, enter the used car salesman, “honest john” and artful prestidigitator Elon Musk.

      • dave permalink
        July 26, 2018 6:42 am

        Not a lot of people know that the late Arthur Marshall (“Call My Bluff” etc.) was a senior officer in British Army Intelligence during WW2.

        In his autobiography, he describes how, after the surrender of Germany, he installed himself in Hitler’s private, State Yacht where he spent his time debriefing senior German prisoners. That was at one end of the boat. At the other end, there was a course being run by the former German Navy, for U-Boat Commanders. The aim of the course was to teach them how to win the war by sinking the Royal Navy. When he inquired why this course was still going on, he received the answer, “There is nobody to give the order to stop!”

        Who will give “the order to stop” to the fanatics in OUR hopelessly lost war on carbon dioxide?

      • dave permalink
        July 26, 2018 7:28 am

        The Tropical Atlantic, where hurricanes develop, is unusually cool:

        Oh well, I am sure we can find something else, other than a high wind in Florida, for the Meja to get excited about.

  7. mikewaite permalink
    July 26, 2018 7:28 am

    There is a 2016 review article (open access) from the Electrochemical Society on the history, current status of research and future prospects for the Li-ion type battery , written by a consultant , G Blomgren
    It contains details of the different chemistries and supplies tables of limitations for electric cars (up to 2016) . The Electrochemical Society of course has been at the forefront of this research for many years , and this is one of the most optimistic papers on the future of Li batteries. Others seem to think that development in the future will concentrate on economic, and perhaps , political, factors rather than the materials science .
    Anyway this is the abstract ;

    “This year, the battery industry celebrates the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the lithium ion rechargeable battery by Sony Corporation. The discovery of the system dates back to earlier work by Asahi Kasei in Japan, which used a combination of lower temperature carbons for the negative electrode to prevent solvent degradation and lithium cobalt dioxide modified somewhat from Goodenough’s earlier work. The development by Sony was carried out within a few years by bringing together technology in film coating from their magnetic tape division and electrochemical technology from their battery division. The past 25 years has shown rapid growth in the sales and in the benefits of lithium ion in comparison to all the earlier rechargeable battery systems. Recent work on new materials shows that there is a good likelihood that the lithium ion battery will continue to improve in cost, energy, safety and power capability and will be a formidable competitor for some years to come.”

    For non auto usage, say in frequency stabilisation of the Grid, the LiFePO4 variant may be the winner if Co and Ni supply becomes a critical issue.

  8. July 26, 2018 8:04 am

    “We call on materials scientists, engineers and funding agencies to prioritize the research and development of electrodes based on abundant elements. Otherwise, the roll-out of electric cars will stall within a decade.”

    Sorry, they’re too busy proving there are 62….78…lots of Genders!

    I’ll have a word with the lezbian studies professor..

  9. tom0mason permalink
    July 26, 2018 8:13 am

    This is just all the usual misapplied crud about resources and known reserves that is often published. Back in the late 1900’s the hype was about running low on copper! There would not be enough because the then known ‘reserves’ were too low to allow all cities to be fitted with electricity distribution. Copper prices went up, this made it cost effective to explore for more and guess what — more was found. Also the technology move on, AC generation, high voltage distribution, aluminum HV cables, etc.

    ” Reserves of cobalt and nickel used in electric-vehicle cells will not meet future demand. Refocus research to find new electrodes based on common elements such as iron and silicon, urge Kostiantyn Turcheniuk and colleagues. “

    That should read that ‘Today’s known reserves of cobalt and nickle …’
    All that will happen is cobalt and nickel prices will increase, the mining industry will pump more investment into exploring for more, and simultaneously more investment will move into other forms of battery technology.
    Yes, there may be a transitory shortfall as the price of the resources change but the future of hi-energy batteries, be they Li or any other technology, will persist as there is a ready (and growing) demand for them, with customers willing to pay the price.

    Have a read here , then move on to Resource Economics 101 Kostiantyn Turcheniuk and colleagues.

  10. Anders Valland permalink
    July 26, 2018 8:28 am

    Paul, the Nature comment states that Li-battery energy density has increased to close to 700 Wh/l. At the same time it also says that for an EV the number are 50-100 kWh for a 600 kg, 500 litre battery – which works out to 100-200 Wh/litre. And that sound about right for the application.

    Therein lies the challenge. Batteries are different all over. The highest energy densities are found in very low power applications, since the very nature of batteries is such that when you get them to hold a high charge they really do hold that charge, not wanting to let go. There is always a trade-off between the energy carrying capacity and the ability to rapidly charge and discharge. High discahrge means low energy carrying capability. Even though this increases over time, the relationships still stands.

    BTW, the highest specific energy of batteries today are for marine applications. An EV battery is a low power application, as power is just needed for the brief moments of acceleration. For marine applications you need high power continuously – a Tesla battery f.inst. would die quite quickly if use for ship propulsion. The high continuous power comes with a price though – marine batteries require liquid cooling of individual cells.

    Batteries as they are today are fickle things. Lithium technology is very sensitive to temperature, discharge and charge rates and storage conditions. In short, the Li-battery starts to die immediately after being produced. You can only affect its rate of death, not prevent it. We need to move to something that is more robust.

    • dave permalink
      July 26, 2018 11:22 am

      “…something that is more robust…”

      Perhaps, something called the internal combustion engine, running on something called petrol.

  11. July 26, 2018 4:03 pm

    “Human ingenuity has a habit of finding a way past cliffs and peaks, and no doubt some alternative way will be found to avoid this latest pitfall.”

    They are working on it:
    MGX Minerals Inc. has successfully extracted lithium from oilsands wastewater.
    Also titanium and zircon:

  12. July 30, 2018 5:40 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  13. July 30, 2018 8:22 am

    Meanwhile I have a drawerful of duff rechargeables.

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