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)
Envia Systems is doing a great job in liitium-ion battery development. The electric car industry faces two major challenges: the high cost of batteries and their limited range between charges. Envia Systems, a startup developed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, the highest "energy density" known. They claim that once the electric car is fully charged then car can run upto 300 miles.
AnandY, actually the range depends on the weight of the car and the power of the motor.
One of the other issues with batteries is the amount of time to charge them. A large pack like the one you mention, may take hours to charge (unless you have a special charging station). This is just another "problem" to be solved.
Looking at these batteries and their elaborate housings it hits me; how amazing that we can pull enough resources out of the earth to make it all. The resources seem endless, though I know they are not.
That Grid lithium battery must cost a fortune. Do you know the price?
These companies play the prices very close to the vest, Cabe. But if we do a little arithmetic, we can get in the ballpark. A 500-kWh battery at $1,000/kWh would be a half million dollars. If the battery costs are coming in lower, say $500/kWh, it would be $250,000.
Charles, I really enjoyed the slideshow of the various lithium-ion battery designs. We have definitely come a long way from the carbon-zinc battery. There's a lot of embedded intelligence in these designs to regulate the batteries output voltage and current under various electrical loads. The last battery slide, I believe it was Bak, looks pretty radical. Again, thanks for taking us on this tour of lithium-ion battery technology. Again, great slides!!!
There's a great deal of hope surrounding Envia's battery, AnandY. Admittedly, the battery business has a reputation for making big promises and not delivering, but this one has been promising enough to draw support from GM.
I think the safety side of your assertion is the most critical.
Consider that some day someone is going to decide these automobiles should be networked, and include a wifi connection or cell phone data connection in their design.
Then consider that some hacker acting in behalf of a non-state actor, decides to declare war by inserting a virus in automobiles firmware, to overheat the Li-Ion batteries at the 20th annivesry of the 9/11 attacks, causing concurrent massive fires on streets, on hiways, in parking structures, in home garages in most western countries. We then have battery fires, cascading into accidents for moving traffic, compounded by accidents and structure fires beyond our public safety services ability to respond.
Consider what happens if this same non-state actor targeted cell phones and portable computers with Li-Ion batteries at the same time.
Li-Ion batteries are bombs, with microprocessor controlled triggers.
mrdon, it's more like thank god we have dedicated logic solutions available, and active software control is not always required.
The problem is, that too many designs have programmable software controls that if compromised can override safety limits in various ways ... either forcing overcharging, or forcing excessive discharge currents leading to overheating and failure.
Since most rechargable systems are plugged in over night, that invites syncronized night fires if the systems can be hacked.
For a well funded non-state actor, with long term goals, there are non-obvious ways to introduce compromized firmware, without network access.
Consider a non-state actor funding/purchasing a major code reader company, or major automotive diagnostic system company, and then spending several years undercutting the competitors for a system specifically targeting EV and EV hybrid models. With a firmware update that inserted the virus/trojan in the months prior to the planned attack, the service organizations using those tools could infect a significant percentage of vehicles, especially in areas that require emissions testing.
Consider a non-state actor purposefully placing software/hardware engineers into automotive and technology companies producing these active battery management systems, to inject the attack even on non-field programmage systems ... a different form of jihad.
NASA and major corporations can not keep asian spies out of their R&D offices ... it's doubtful that a well planned jihad attack would have problems placing good engineers into R&D teams.
The Boston attacks this week make it pretty clear, that we are blind to those wanting to attack western interests.
There are also some significant economic incentives to this class of attacks, as it will cause a predicable significant short term marktet crash. So the non-state actor may be strictly motivated by greed.
There are several battery chemistries and construction strategies in this Li group. So far only A123 Systems LiFePO4 is proven safe to use in hostile environments. The techology was produced in the US, with key patents by A123 Systems, and significant research funded by US DOE. The Obama administration appears to support China purchasing A123 assets in Jan 2013, which is a huge mistake. China firms had been widely counterfiting LiFePO4 batteries, which had impacted A123 Systems significantly. China is picking up the patents and other assets for cheap, leaving US EV and EV hybrid makers without an economic safety net in battery techology. A vocal response might stop the final gov approvals.
LiFePO4 batteries do not produce a free oxygen at raised temps, and have very low internal resistance so they do not warm up with high currents like other Li-Ion or Li-Poly batteries. They can also be crushed, shorted, and do not just explode or create O2 driven fires as the other batteries do.
There is a lot published about Li-Ion and Li-Poly fires. Google is your friend here. There is a lot of field data from the RC Airplane and car industry about failures leading to explosions and fire. There is also a lot of field data from explosions and fire in the Phone, Notebook computer, and other portable devices.
A lot of people believe that failures can be controlled with good battery management. What we do know is that metal crystal growth thru the separator, will sooner or later cause a short and fire, for a significant number of batteries already deployed.
While this "risk" is managable on a small scale, it becomes frightening on a large scale. Especially when failures with fires can be caused fairly reliably ... like overcharging without a reliable external thermal shutdown.
So as the power supply cap's in your embedded design degrade, and the microprocessor is no longer stable ... is it safe to let software sample charge voltages and temps, and be responsible for turning of the charge enable MOSFET? .... I don't think so.
The addition of malware to charging system control software is a very disturbing possibility, and unfortunately one that would be quite a challenge to defend against. The problem is made far worse by the attitude of many in our country that "none of our enemies are really that bad", which results in not taking threats very seriously. Consider the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon as an example. I had not considered intentional malware in the battery charge system code as a potential means of atteck, but it certainly could be. The method of preventing the possibility is through using exclusively electronic means, avoiding the use of software in the charge control system. Not nearly as cheap and easy, but much more secure.
Although hackers are certainly a problem in the modern technological and interconnected age, I'm not certain explosion is a principle concern. There haven't been incidents where computer servers were physically damaged that I am aware of. The media has been erased, network access has been denied, and plenty of other major inconveniences, but no physical damages. The reason, I think, is isolation between the network interface and the operating system/hardware. I would expect the same isolation to be built into any networked auto systems. It's like this: all Internet browsers, by internal design, PREVENT a hacker from using HTML-based instructions from reading (or writing to) the contents of the user's hard drive without their explicit approval. It's hard-coded into the browser language (I program for a living and have attempted to overcome this limitation myself, although for the purposes of good, not evil). Does that mean a user's machine can't be compromised? No, it doesn't. But it means the user has to actively allow control to the hacker. i.e., take an action that explicitly permits the transfer of a virus, spyware, rootkit and so on, to their drive. I can reasonable assume automotive networkers would follow the same safety protocols that have been employed and deployed over the past 10-15 years of Internet usage, and not create the opportunity for that scenario (call me optimistic or naive, but 15 years of recent history in the same environment sets a reasonable standard of expectations).
The idea that hackers could corner the market on automotive code readers and introduce a doomsday trigger is fascinating and great material for a future Tom Cruise/Mission Impossible plotline. But it sounds a little too passive/aggressive for most terrorists to want to focus on. And I tend to doubt the Chinese would want to wipe out a country they have invested so much money in, buying our debt. They aren't that short sighted. I don't doubt they could do it, I only question the assumption that they would pick up our tab and THEN knock us off.
The concern I would have with viruses and such would be the more mundane issue of being able to trigger some sort of failsafe device while the car is driving on the interstate, shutting down the vehicle and stranding the driver in the middle of nowhere. Now that's a more realistic possibility, and could conceivably cause plenty of havoc if coordinated correctly.
Chuck, the malware that I am talking about would reside in the processor associated with the battery pack, inside the battery pack. Nobody looks at that code, and nobody even has the means to look at the code in the charge controller IC in the battery pack. And there could certainly be damage to the batter pack done from that location. And there is no simple way to prevent it, other than running the batteries dead and disposing of the pack.
Rob ... the problem with security is it's very hard to retrofit, if not carefully and fully designed in from the beginning.
There are a lot of potential attack vectors for cars of the future, expecially if "entertainment systems" continue to be tightly integrated with control systems. Consider a car that offers internet access with an onboard touch screen web browser for passengers, with outdated browser plug-ins like Java, Adobe Reader or Flash Player -- all of which are potential attack vectors with exploits that don't require click authorization.
Then consider that these plug-in's are not always secure .... and haven't been for a while now. google:
Whitehole exploit toolkit
So far there hasn't been a mandate for highly secure automotive control systems ... and we have people selling chip-kits that replace the factory firmware for many auto's and trucks.
Over heat a large Li-Ion battery pack, and thermal runaway is unavoidable if the thermal management system can be compromised by software ... either disabling termal lockouts for charging, or disabling thermal lockouts for discharging, or both.
I simply raise this, because it's very likely with current trends, that Li-Ion batteries will be a target in the future .... posting this certainly let the cat out of the bag. Someone needs to be responsible up front, and set clear design thresholds for safety ... not just for preventing thermal runaway of Li-Ion batteries, but coordinated attacks which might disable or seize control of a car remotely as part of a coordinated infrastructure attack.
Consider the "Fire Sale" from Die Hard :)
That was theater ... reality isn't that far behind.
Well agrued, Totally_Lost. I particularly see your point on the systems that would be retrofitted. Add to that plug-in devices from teenagers who are well known for their lack on interest in security. So, good points.
I wholeheartedly agree with you, Rob. I appreciated the slideshow and from a consumer's standpoint - I have no problem with lithium-ion batteries in electronic gadgetry. But you simply can't convince me that it would be safe to drive a car with lithium ion batteries. Not only do you have the increased volatility that comes with that chemistry, but the cars themselves are smaller. In a crash, small cars are simply not as protected as big cars. When it comes time for my fifteen year old to drive - you can bet you will find a lead acid battery in his car - and it will probably be my 1997 Chevy Lumina LOL
Lithium-Ion primarily gained recognition from portable consumer electronic appliances. No doubt the technology is great, but I'm curious about why L-Ion batteries don't perform well on laptops. The battery life span on laptops is usually only 1-1.5 years.
I agree with the comments that this is a nice retrospective. Sometimes, consumer response drives innovation. People are frustrated by the short of lifespan and heat emitted by laptop batteries but haven't demanded a real fix. USB laptop fans are just a band-aid but people buy them.
Actually, USB fans running on a laptop computer add to the problem by increasing the power loading. Slowing the clock and reducing the screen backlight brightness would be more useful. Also, keeping the CPU heatsink dustfree is a helpful option.
@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.
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.
far911, battery failure, or at least the reduction in performance after repeated useage, is what I thought I was talking about. It is a combination of factors that use up battery life. More current draw causes a more frequent need to recharge, and it is the charge/discharge cycles thast ultimately use up a batterie's life. So while the relationship is less clear, it is certainly real.
Wlliam i agree to you although lithium ion cells canbe the future technology but it also has its limitations.One of the major limitation is ageing and this depends upon number of times the cell has been charged it doesnt depend upon the time period of the battery usage infact depends upon the number of cycles the battery has gone for recharging .Research has shown that it should be charged within 40 to 50% rather than 100 percent in order to protect the battery. Secondly one should take care of over charging as well this also reduces the life of lithium ion cells .
The gasoline in the fuel tank is a much greater crash hazard and would be capable of nearly instant damage, as opposed to the battery pack, which would take much more time to heat up and start a fire. And I am not aware of any automotive or aviation battery pack explosions. Gas tanks are a different story, though.
I worked with a guy that was in a group of people watching a car burn. The gas tank shot out of the car and killed two people. I got a video of robots from a friend last night where the Li battery burned and they could not put it out. Sun passing through a water bottle will burn holes in your boat cushions. Concentrated power sources.
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.
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.
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.
A lot of well-intentioned money went into this technology, ChasChas. David Cole -- who is the chairman emeritus of The Center for Automotive Reserach and the former head of the automotive engineering program at the University of Michigan and the auto industry's most respected consultant -- told me this: "The government was waving billions of dollars around, and to get that money, you had to talk about cars and you had to talk about lithium batteries." My personal belief is that many people outside the auto industry made the assumption that batteries would advance the way electronics did two decades ago; all we had to do was throw money at it. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way, and never has during the past hundred years.
That prediction is very interesting, Chuck. I wonder if the design teams creating EVs with lithium-ion batteries were sufficiently aware of the chemistry challenges. A few screw-ups can do real damage to a business that is still in the cradle.
It will be interesting to see how the lithium-ion battery fares going forward. Seems the automakers have invested heavily in this battery, even with the questions still flloating around. Your point earlier concerning the value of a used EVs that needs a new battery still haunts the ultimate validity and afflordability of EVs.
I believe that lithium-ion will be with us for a long time to come, Rob. There are so many producers of the technology out there now, and the energy capacity of this chemistry is so great, that engineers will find a use for them, unless some catastrophic accident occurs.
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.
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.
A recently released government report has raised the hopes of automakers looking for a break on future fuel economy regulations, despite the warnings of an Environmental Protection Agency official who said the agency is unlikely to back down on its goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025.
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