The Seven Candidates For The Best Electric Car Battery
Electric cars present a whole new challenge to manufacturers and end users. Their major benefits – zero air pollutants, less noise pollution, more energy resilience and less dependence on fossil fuel, etc. – are counterbalanced by drawbacks, one of which is the ongoing search for the best electric vehicle battery.
National Geographic presents seven ingredients being considered by scientists today as the potential key to the ultimate electric car battery. These potential break-throughs are nanotubes, manganese, lithium, copper, sodium, silicon, and oxygen.
Potential Advantages: Faster charging and discharging
Potential Disadvantages: Energy intensive at processing stage
According to NG, using nanotubes in batteries could enable faster charging and discharging due to more surface area that single-atom-thick carbon sheets have. As current models of lithium-ion batteries use a form of carbon (graphite) which has a more limited capacity to store ions, researchers are working on integrating carbon nanotubes into batteries and fuel cells that could be used to power electric vehicles. One drawback that carbon nanotubes present is that it needs to be processed at extremely high temperatures.
Potential Advantages: Cheap and durable
Potential Disadvantages: Tendency to dissolve in electrolyte
NG reports that manganese is a prime choice for Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Fisker Karma batteries, thanks to its high capacity for energy storage. However the element is known to dissolve in electrolytes, effectively shortening the battery’s lifetime. Kristin Perrson, research chemist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Laurence Berkeley National Lab, said that this has been a problem for a long time and needs to be solved in order for electric cars running on manganese battery packs to fully maximize their longevity (15 years or more).
Potential Disadvantages: High reactivity, potential political issues
Lithium remains as the best element for battery packs at the forefront of current technologies today. It has been widely used in rechargeable electronics and portable gadgets. NG mentions that lithium-ion battery technology has replaced traditional nickel-metal hydride batteries in cars as a lightweight substitute, with double the energy density. Alas, even popular lithium has potential drawbacks, even political ones as the world’s top suppliers are Chile, China, and Bolivia. As an element, it is also highly reactive when in contact with water – an important safety issue for vehicles.
Potential Advantages: Fast charging, high energy storage
Potential Disadvantages: Expensive, tendency to dissolve in electrolyte
Copper has traditionally been used as an essential metal in batteries, and is now one of the ingredients being eyed for electrode material. Though it is quite expensive compared to other potential ingredients and is similarly reactive as manganese, new technology may give copper another shot at being EV battery material. Copper and antimonide nanowires in the anode could hold the key to super fast charging (minutes instead of hours) if developed.
Potential Advantages: Abundant and cheap
Potential Disadvantages: Extremely low melting point
Sodium could literally be labeled as ‘dirt cheap’, and this is precisely one of its major advantages as a key ingredient in EV batteries. Research is being conducted on how it could work together with lithium, to complement the latter’s high storage capacity with the former’s power output crucial for acceleration in EVs. Nevertheless, sodium presents a drawback with its extremely low melting point and reactivity.
Potential Advantages: High energy storage, abundant
Potential Disadvantages: Loss of capacity
As an element, silicon is plentiful and has potential for high energy storage. NG states that silicon can possible store tenfold the energy that graphite in lithium-ion batteries hold at present. However, silicon is vulnerable to capacity loss, an engineering challenge that still remains at present.
Potential Advantages: Abundant, inexpensive, high energy storage
Potential Disadvantages: Highly reactive, needs complicated engineering
A “moon shot” is how NG described oxygen and lithium technology combined, yet oxygen holds great potential as an EV battery ingredient. Oxygen as an element is abundant and inexpensive, and if successfully paired with lithium in batteries can increase typical storage of lithium-ion types up to ten times. However, it needs complex engineering to be used as a pure ingredient, and its chemistry with lithium produces highly reactive agents like lithium peroxide.
A modern vehicle that runs on rechargeable batteries for hundreds of miles presents several advantages to an increasingly carbon emissions-conscious world. The search for the best EV battery pack is a sign that electric vehicles are accelerating in their development and eventual widespread utilization.
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