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Where Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Going?

Spending time at the wheel of many electric and hybrid cars in the last few months got us wondering where lithium-ion batteries are headed. Our research led us to some noteworthy finds.

There is a consensus: lithium-ion is the winning type of rechargeable battery for this decade. IDTechEx counted about 150 manufacturers of these and expects to see 200 manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries soon, mainly because of the burgeoning number of Chinese companies making poor quality me-too-but-cheaper versions.

Everyone also agrees that traction batteries for electric vehicles – hybrid and pure electric – will be the major market for lithium-ion batteries over the coming decade. It is also expected that electric vehicles will dominate the use of this type of batteries in later years by a big margin.

One well balanced article that summed up very well our other findings was written by Dr Peter Harrop, the Founder and Chairman of IDTechEx.

The full article can be accessed here and the following paragraphs represent some of the key points he made.

Dr Harrop says IDTechEx projects a market for traction batteries in land and water vehicles plus aircraft of just under $60 billion in 2020 of which about 60% will be lithium-ion. IDTechEx also expects 80% of those will be made by just four winning lithium-ion manufacturers.

An important element to consider in order to understand the scale of the market is the fact electric vehicles need the equivalent of thousands to tens of thousands of mobile phone batteries per vehicle.

The disagreement amongst the battery community comes with just about everything else concerning lithium-ion batteries.

The chemistry front is the big question mark – and also where the solution likely rests; both the cathode and the anode need improvements.

There is lithium iron phosphate used for active cathodes because of advantages such as no materials subject to severe price hikes, low cost materials and easier patent position.

Batteries conceived this way have good temperature performance that can reflect in greater safety, though no lithium-ion cell is inherently safe and the first defender of safety is the Battery Management System BMS, not the cell.

On the anode side, today’s batteries have little more than copper foil coated with carbon such as graphite. Disagreement reigns on how to improve this aspect. EnerDel, Altairnano and Toshiba have taken the lithium titanate route said to improve power density for fast regenerative braking and fast chargers at the roadside or bus depot.
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