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The good old lithium-ion battery is getting a little long in the tooth. Its days as the #1 power storage solution for mobile devices may be numbered (no doubt still in the thousands of days – but the end is in sight). Lithium-ion has a few problems, the process of making the battery is environmentally unfriendly, dependent on rare earth metals, and difficult to process minerals. Not to mention the disposal of old batteries.
Here are a couple of candidate replacements:
Aluminum-Air Batteries: Not really a battery at all. But a fuel cell that consumes Aluminum to generate electricity. It’s not rechargeable, and best used in future electric cars. You would have to replace the Aluminum cartridge roughly every 1600-2000km, and keep a water tank full. The cartridge would weigh about 45kg (nearly 100 lbs.) and would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 to change. The used cartridge could be re-processed to be reused – but here’s the thing – recycling aluminum doesn’t actually save any energy.
The most interesting idea for these batteries, I think, is to use them as range extenders on lithium-ion battery cars. So you’d have a normal lithium-ion battery pack, with sufficient range for your day-to-day travels, but if you were taking a weekend retreat or have extra errands to run – the Aluminum-Air battery would pick up the slack to get you home…You would probably only have to replace it 3 or 4 times a year – replacements only take a few minutes to accomplish.
Another interesting battery is the Molten Metal battery. As the name implies, its quite warm at about 700c. It’s best used for stationary projects – like grid backup – or data center UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supplies) that provide power while the backup generators start. Not just because they’re hot and heavy, but also because they’re molten and depend on density stratification to separate the cathode from the anode. (with a layer of molten salt as an electrolyte) A jolt or vibration strong enough to cause the metals to touch would cause a short circuit and a very rapid release of energy. So like James Bond’s martini, it’s best not shaken.
The best candidate to replace Lithium-ion batteries in mobile devices is the Aluminum-ion battery. At 8x-10x more energy-dense than lithium-ion, batteries could get smaller – making thinner phones and laptops possible. A phone as thin as a credit card may soon be a reality (that may be pushing it a little – maybe a phone 2x-3x the thickness of a credit card could be possible – and amazing). It also charges very quickly – maybe a minute or two to fully charge a cell phone (the cable required to recharge a car battery in a couple of minutes – would be too heavy to be practical).
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many science-y videos to tout the advantages of Aluminum Ion batteries.
One unexpected advantage of this post is that I learned to spell Aluminum.Published in