A decade ago, the term “lithium-ion” meant little to consumers. Now, it’s everywhere. Consumers know it as the power source for their laptops, cellphones, hybrid vehicles, and electric cars. It’s also showing up less conspicuously in storage applications on electrical grids. And it has been prominently cited as the battery chemistry that caught fire on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
Lithium-ion’s sudden rise to public prominence has happened for a reason. It’s an energetic chemistry the likes of which have not been previously available. In vehicles, for example, lithium-ion offers three times as much energy as lead-acid and 50 percent more than nickel-metal hydride.
“Lithium-ion has terrific properties in terms of energy density,” David Cole, chairman emeritus of The Center for Automotive Research, told Design News recently.
We’ve collected photos of lithium-ion battery applications from the past five years. From electric cars and hybrids to laptops and grid storage applications, they demonstrate the impact lithium battery chemistries have had.
Click the image below to start the slideshow.
Engineers of Nissan’s Leaf, which made its debut in 2010, wanted their car to have a battery that wouldn’t clog up valuable rear-seat space. Instead of placing the lithium-ion batteries in the back seat and trunk, they created a 24-kWh pack that resides under the floor. (Source: Nissan)
Nadine, consumers don't demand better batteries just as consumers don't demand all of those useless "features" that proliferate on so many products. It seems that mostly, consumers buy whatever has the most "cool factor" or whatever is cheapest. Marketing decides what will be offered, tempered by accounting pushing for whatever is cheapest to deliver. The other problem is that, thanks to the "smart" battery pack electronics, in many cases the only battery pack that the product would be willing to work with is the one from the OEM, which is usually about 30% more expensive. In addition, most folks are not about to discard their expensive laptop computer when the battery needs to be replaced after a year, although a few of them do. Wasting $600 or more on a new computer just because of bad batteries in the old one is a bit painful for many folks, after all.
My feeling is that the consumer buying habits are so poor because of technical incompetence. And I don't see any quick end to that.
Good points, Nancy. Right now, the auto industry is in a struggle to find lighter vehicles (that consume less energy to meet upcoming CAFE standards) while also struggling to maintain safety. Not an easy task. They're working with composite materials to meet the duel demand of fuel savings and structural muscle, but it may be years before that can create a small, light car that won't get horribly crushed by one of the gigantic SUVs that are everywhere.
Energy density is important for range. But, with all the cooling needed, this doesn't seem like a very efficient energy storage system. Perhaps electricity is cheap - like gas used to be. This battery can't be "green" with all the waste. It doesn't seem like a good all around battery.
I agree there's an image problem, Rob, and for good reason. Lithium-ion is an energetic chemistry and if the engineers who use it don't show due respect for the energy, there can be problems. If it's engineered properly, especially with respect to cooling, there's no reason that lithium-ion can't be safe. Amazingly, an MIT prof predicted these problems during a discussion with Design News in 1998, saying that too many people don't fully understand this chemistry. His words turned out to be prophetic.
@WilliamK - your comments are technically correct but missed my point altogether.
The whole point I made was that people purchase USB fans as a fix instead of demanding better batteries. The average buyer doesn't know that the fan is not a true solution. When consumers demand better, companies quickly innovate. Without that drive, new battery development will be very slow.
Thanks, bonjengr. I think the applications up to now have tended to lean toward automotive because the federal government was funding anything having to do with electric cars. But as you point out, the applications are endless, and I think we'll see a lot of new ones emerging in the coming decade.
Charles--Excellent slide show giving us an indication as to what is available and who is using the technology. It took a great deal of work putting together the slide show and we all certainly do appreciate it. It's obvious to me the applications are somewhat endless and only an engineer's imagination can find uses. Again, many thanks.
Tesla Motors’ $35,000, 200-mile electric car may not revolutionize the auto industry by itself, but it could serve as a starting point for a long, steady climb to a day when half of the world’s vehicles will be plug-ins.
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