Battery technology is developing incrementally; is there a breakthrough in prospect?

1 min read

Battery technology – at least in the last Century – was one of the slowest moving of them all. There was no real need for the technology to move forward until Sony came out with the transistor radio, but things have changed drastically since then.

This issue notes the development by Oxis Energy of lithium-sulphur battery technology to the point where it has an energy density of 300Whr/kg. According to the company, not only has energy density increased, cell capacity has also increased to 25Ahr – 12 times greater than it was 18 months ago. German research network Fraunhofer is also working on Li-sulphur batteries and believes it may be possible to reach 600Whr/kg. Li-sulphur is a potential successor to lithium-ion technology; not only does it hold the prospect of greater energy density, it is also safer. But there's a downside; lithium-sulphur batteries can't be recharged as many times as their Li-ion counterparts. Oxis is one of many companies researching battery technology. Some are working on new chemistries, others are focusing on new anode materials. Nexeon, one of the latter, believes silicon anodes will store 10 times as much charge as the carbon anode used in Li-ion cells. Then there are organisations working on ways to speed the recharging process. There's good reasons for all this work. Consumers want devices to last longer between charges, while device manufacturers are looking for smaller batteries so they can develop smaller products. Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, automotive manufacturers want the same range from smaller batteries in future electric cars or more miles from the same sized batteries as today. But, addressing a seminar earlier in 2014, battery chemistry pioneer Dr Yoshio Nishi – previously Sony's director of materials research – said he doesn't see any current options displacing Li-ion. He thinks Li-ion still offers the best way forward, with new anode and cathode materials, plus such approaches as polymer gels, moving things on. Yet, despite all the research, battery technology is only improving incrementally. Dr Nishi noted there are 110million possible combinations of materials that could be used to make batteries. Perhaps one of those will provide the breakthrough being sought?