Wondering what are the most promising Lithium battery alternatives? You came to the right place!
With the latest advancements in renewable and green technologies, the need for efficient ways to store energy became even more evident.
Although Lithium batteries have provided significant progress to the field of technology, they still leave a lot to be desired.
Shorter charging times, higher energy density, lower costs, and reduced safety risks are just a few of the many improvements that still need to be made if we want renewables to truly compete with fossil fuels.
In light of this, Lithium Battery alternatives have been an extremely important subject of research, and it looks like we are only a breakthrough away from finally revolutionizing the world of energy storage.
In this article, we’ll present the top 7 Lithium battery alternatives.
Table of Contents
What Is A Lithium Battery?
A Lithium battery is a type of rechargeable battery frequently used to power a wide range of devices, from laptops and smartphones to medical equipment and electric vehicles.
As the name suggests, Lithium batteries are based on the flow of Lithium ions that move “back and forth” between two electrodes, which are crucial components of the battery.
Released in 1991, the first commercial Lithium-Ion battery (also called Li-ion) was developed by Sony, based on earlier research by John Goodenough. And for decades, “good enough” has been a great way to describe Lithium batteries (pun intended), but not anymore.
Although they present significant advantages compared to other already existing types of batteries – such as lead-acid or Nickel-Cadmium – there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially regarding safety.
Pros & Cons Of Lithium Batteries
Here are some of the pros and cons of Lithium batteries:
- Wide range of applications for small, portable devices
- High energy density, when compared to other existing batteries
- Low maintenance
- No memory effect
- It contains hazardous materials, making proper disposal difficult
- Sensitive to temperature
- Limited and relatively short lifespan
- The ability to hold charge fades over time
- Pose fire risks
- Not cost-effective for grid integration
To solve this issue, many companies are currently investing a lot of time and money into developing new technologies that could potentially replace the popular Li-ion batteries for good in the near future.
In order for you to better understand these alternatives – the science behind them and what they promise – let’s first take a quick look at how a Lithium battery works.
How Does A Lithium Battery Work?
Several individual electrochemical cells – where oxidation and reduction reactions occur – compose a Li-ion cell. Each cell comprises four main parts: an anode (-), a cathode (+), an electrolyte, and a membrane separator.
Here is a simplified scheme of a Lithium-Ion Battery:
Due to its chemical properties, lithium atoms easily give up an electron (oxidize), and become lithium ions.
Discharge: the released electrons flow through the device (powered by the battery) towards the positive electrode. Meanwhile, lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode, through the electrolyte.
Recharge: External energy causes oxidation of the species in the cathode, forcing electrons to move to the opposite direction, towards the anode. The lithium ions then also move to the anode, where they suffer reduction.
This way, chemical energy is stored and converted into electrical energy.
Top 7 Lithium Battery Alternatives
1. Solid-State Battery
One of the most promising Lithium battery alternatives is the solid-state battery.
Although it still contains lithium, the key difference is the physical state of its components. This technology uses a solid electrolyte, instead of the liquid/gel found in traditional Lithium batteries.
This slight difference makes it much safer; by eliminating the risk of contact between the electrodes, overheating and combustion are no longer a concern.
But that’s not all. Using a solid electrolyte, the battery becomes much more compact, leading to a higher energy density. It also may be capable of recharging much faster and performing more cycles.
Many companies are investing large sums of money into this technology – Toyota, Volkswagen, and Samsung, to name a few. But even though it sounds great in theory, finding a solid material that doesn’t easily crack while still allowing lithium ions to move through it is not an easy task.
Founded in 2011, a company called QuantumScape claims to have developed an excellent ceramic material to act as a solid electrolyte. While still a few years away from being commercially available, they promise better life performances, 15 minute charge times, and lower costs They aim to have electric vehicles driving with these cells by 2024!
2. Redox Flow Battery
Imagine having a battery with a lifespan of over 20 years, with no decrease in performance over time! That’s what Redox Flow batteries promise. And this technology is not just a thing of the future, it’s already becoming available in the market!
Here’s a simple scheme of a flow battery:
Two separate electrolyte tanks compose a redox flow battery, one containing positively charged species and the other containing negatively charged species. Between them, there’s a cell where reduction and oxidation reactions take place, hence the name “redox”.
Each electrolyte is pumped from the tanks into the cell, which are separated by a membrane. During discharge, redox reactions happen in the cell, creating a flow of electrons that move through the outer circuit, supplying energy.
While charging, the opposite reactions occur, and chemical energy is stored.
This setup is quite versatile: if we need to store more energy, we can just make bigger tanks containing larger volumes of electrolytes. Conversely, if we want more power, we just need longer electrodes. These traits make this technology a great candidate for grid-scale storage.
Because both liquids circulate separately, they don’t pose fire risks, making them safer than the Lithium battery. They can also discharge around 90% of its capacity and last for up to 20 years.
3. Hydrogen Energy Storage
This technology shows great potential to integrate renewable energy systems into the grid.
The theory is quite simple: the surplus of renewable energy (solar, for example) would be used to break down molecules of water, forming hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. This hydrogen would then be stored, under pressure or as a liquid.
With the help of a Hydrogen fuel cell (see image below), the stored H2 reacts with O2 to produce clean energy, with the only byproduct being pure water.
These same hydrogen fuel cells could also replace fossil fuels to power vehicles in the near future.
The use of energy in order to store hydrogen efficiently (under pressure or as a liquid) can be a drawback.
The possibility for storage of Hydrogen for long periods of time (weeks or months), without degradation, is a notable advantage. This enables the storage of energy from renewables, like solar and wind, for use in the winter season, for example.
4. Aluminum-Ion Battery
Imagine charging your electric car in a couple of minutes. This might possibly be closer than you think!
Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG), an Australian company, partnered with the University of Queensland to develop a novel battery technology, the Graphene Aluminum-Ion battery.
In this battery, the cathode is graphene, a material known as an amazing conductor, while the anode is a foil form of Aluminum, which is earth’s most abundant metal. It stores and discharges energy in a similar way as the Lithium Battery.
When lithium oxidizes, it releases one electron, becoming Li+. Aluminum, on the other hand, releases three electrons, becoming Al3+. This allows Al-ion batteries to increase storage capacity, being more energy-dense than Li-ion.
Because graphene is a great electrical conductor, charging times decrease drastically. GMG claims this battery could charge up to 60 times faster than a Li-ion battery.
They are also more eco-friendly, in terms of the supply chain, and they don’t suffer from heating problems, making them a safer option than Li-ion.
With all of that in mind, Al-ion batteries have an enormous potential to replace Li-ion in portables and electric vehicles.
5. Graphene Supercapacitor
One of the drawbacks of the Li-ion batteries is that they can take quite a long time to charge.
Supercapacitors offer a great alternative given their ability to charge and discharge much faster. However, they can only hold small amounts of energy when compared to Li-ion batteries.
If the storage capacity of these supercapacitors could increase, they could compete with Li-ion batteries.
Research shows that one of the ways to achieve this is by using a highly porous form of graphene with a large internal surface area.
A graphene supercapacitor can store almost as much energy as a lithium-ion battery, charge, and discharge in a matter of seconds, and perform tens of thousands of charging cycles, offering a great option in terms of integration with wearable and portable technologies.
However, costs are still high in comparison to lithium batteries, so they are still far from commercialization.
6. Liquid Metal Battery
Ambri, an American start-up company, claims to have found an efficient and safe solution to the global problem of grid storage.
Components of this battery’s cell:
– liquid calcium-alloy anode
– molten salt electrolyte
– cathode made of antimony
These components are solid at room temperature, making the cell inactive.
With the supply of energy (from renewables, for example), heaters within the system activate the cells by heating them up to their operating temperature (around 500ºC). This causes its components to melt and become reactive. Through redox reactions, energy can be stored, and later discharged.
Ambri cells are not explosive, combustive, or sensitive to temperature. They use non-degradable, low-cost materials, made to last for 20+ years. This makes them an efficient candidate for grid-scale applications, something that the Lithium Battery isn’t.
7. Iron-Air Battery
Closing our top 7 Lithium battery alternatives is an innovative technology that uses one of the most abundant elements on earth: iron.
“Reversible rusting” is the principle behind the iron-air battery and it’s incredibly simple. Each cell contains a metallic Iron anode and an “air-breathing” cathode, immersed in a water-based, non-flammable electrolyte.
As it discharges, the battery “breathes in” oxygen from the air and oxidizes iron metal to rust, releasing electrons. While charging, an electrical current is applied, converting the rust back to iron and “breathing out” oxygen.
Due to it being heavy, this technology won’t replace Li-ion batteries in smartphones or electric vehicles anytime soon. But as a stationary, utility-scale battery, it can be a cost-effective, non-toxic and safe solution.
These batteries are modular and scalable, which enables integration into the grid. They require approximately 1 acre of land to generate 1 megawatt, with 3 megawatts per acre configurations being possible.
Based in Massachusetts, Form Energy is the company behind this technology. They claim these battery systems can be placed anywhere, even in urban areas, discharging not for hours, but for days at a time.
As of now, we are far away from the limits of what a battery can do. But predictions show that by 2040, the energy storage market will have attracted around $620 million in investments, so there’s hope for the future.
Time will tell which one of these alternatives (or something else entirely) will replace the Lithium battery as the world’s most used rechargeable technology.
Now that you’ve seen what the future of batteries looks like, on which one would you bet to take the Lithium battery’s throne?