The batteries of the future that will replace oil
Progress in the research into batteries with higher storage capacity, less weight and faster charging speed will enable the transition from an economy dependent on fossil fuels to an electrified, cleaner and sustainable world. These are the batteries that the future holds for us.
When Pedro Gómez-Romero, Research Fellow at the CSIC and Director of the Neo-Energy Group of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, gives a talk, he begins by showing a photograph of the Earth at night seen from space. “If an extraterrestrial civilisation saw all the lights of our cities illuminating the planet, they would think we were an advanced species… but we are a civilisation historically dedicated to wasting energy“.
“Only now,” explains Professor Gómez-Romero, “are we beginning to show interest in storing energy. Electrification is an unavoidable change. We must stop using fossil fuels,” he states. That is precisely what is being investigated at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: new electricity storage systems that will make this new world one hundred percent electric.
Batteries with higher capacity, less weight and less charging time have allowed the popularisation of electric vehicles. They will also make it possible to increase the range and power in the future until it becomes a superior alternative to the combustion engine.
According to the predictions made by Bloomberg analysts, electric car sales will exceed those of petrol and diesel combustion cars by 2038, and their price will be similar to that of conventional vehicles in just eight years’ time. According to this same report, the cost of Lithium-Ion batteries will fall significantly: a battery that would have cost US$1,000 in 2010 will only cost US$73 in 2030.
The production of lithium, cobalt and manganese will increase by 100% by 2030, the demand for aluminium and nickel for electric cars will reach 327,000 tonnes per year and the consumption of graphite will grow from 13,000 tonnes in 2015 to 852,000 tonnes in just 13 years.
Continuity with Lithium-Ion, Elon Musk’s choice
Lithium-Ion batteries are currently the most frequently used batteries in electric cars. One of their main advantages is their life cycle, since they allow a large number of recharges. Their size and range are sufficient for regular routes. This, together with the reliability of their technology, has led to them becoming the choice of almost all car manufacturers, now and in the medium-term. The advances in Lithium-Ion technology, with its shorter recharge times, promise a long life for this technology, even though research is being carried out on its evolution.
“Post-Lithium” batteries are ideal for long distances
Another battery technology, known as Post-Lithium, uses this material particularly to increase the range of the units. This is the case of Lithium-Sulphur and Lithium-Air batteries, whose energy density is ten times that of conventional Lithium-Ion batteries, which allows more capacity with the same weight and space, and could extend the range of electric cars by up to 1,000 kilometres.
The graphene revolution
New nanomaterials, such as graphene, promise to change energy storage forever. “Graphene is a nanomaterial obtained from graphite which has a large number of applications in the development of batteries. The most novel line of research we are exploring is the creation of an electroactive nanofluid. Since it is a liquid, it would allow us to recharge our batteries at a dispenser, as though it were conventional fuel. Additionally, this graphene nanofluid makes it possible to have greater power in less space“, explains Pedro Gómez-Romero.
Graphene, however, is already used in the manufacture of new batteries and has enabled greater range and reduced charging time. “This is the case of graphene electrodes, which have begun to be used in conventional batteries such Lithium-Ion and which enable quick recharges,” says the CSIC Professor.
Graphene polymers for a range of 800 kilometres
The Spanish company Grabat has developed a battery based on graphene polymer cells that enable high-energy capacity batteries. Its promoters claim that, applied to electric cars, it will allow a range of 800 kilometres. In addition, it occupies between 20% and 30% less than a lithium battery and can be charged in just 5 minutes.
New Metal-Air generation
One of the technologies that is attracting great interest is that of Metal-Air, such as Zinc-Air and Aluminium-Air batteries. “They are highly efficient batteries, but have the problem of supporting few charging cycles,” explains Professor Gómez-Romero. “They would be ideal for electric rental car fleets, where a used battery could be replaced with a new one instead of having to recharge it.” Research is now focused on lengthening the charging cycle of this type of device to extend its useful life. This is the case of the Spanish company Albufera Cells, which claims to have achieved a genuinely rechargeable Aluminium-Air battery based on nanotechnology.