Are lithium-ion batteries ready to completely replace the internal combustion engine?

November 2020 marks the launch of the UK government’s new ‘green plan’. Within the 10 areas highlighted, a significant change is that it brings a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars forward by a whole decade to 2030.

Many other countries are also taking bold steps to eliminate fossil fuels from their roads. Norway has a date of 2025 in its sights, when it will be illegal to sell new petrol or diesel cars and only zero-emission vehicles will be allowed. And according to one German news site, the European Union is thinking of implementing stricter environmental measures around vehicle emissions with a new Euro-7 standard which would, in practical terms at least, be impossible to meet with the internal combustion engine. These new measures are likely to come into force from 2025, putting a large part of Europe in line with Norway and ahead of the UK.

In China, President Xi Jinping announced in September of this year that China will aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 and bring peak emissions forward to before 2030. The country’s investments in electric mobility means it is aiming for around 20% of the market to be EV by 2025 and while this is not quite as ambitious as the European targets, 20% of 21 million annual vehicle sales marks a huge reliance on non fossil-fuel technology . And this brings us to the US. Recently proposed legislation would seek to ban US sales of fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2035. At a state level, California and New Jersey have committed to alternative energy power for all new vehicles from 2035. If the federal proposal is to be met, it would require that by 2025, half of all new vehicle sales will need to be electric or hydrogen powered.

The global roadmap is clear on the future of electric and other forms of non-fossil-fuel powered cars. Among the discussions on manufacturing challenges and charging infrastructure, the other question is whether emerging battery technology is up to the job?


The rapid rise of the world’s most revolutionary battery

From early development in the lab from the 1970s, the first commercially available lithium-ion battery hit the market in Japan in 1991. Since then, development has gone from strength to strength and revolutionized the technological world, making today’s smartphones laptops and wearable tech possible. But the area where the lithium-ion battery is really being challenged is in electric vehicles.

Today’s EVs include batteries that give them incredible range. For example, the Tesla Roadster can reach 600 miles on a single charge. However, the price tag pushes this car well into the premium luxury market. At the more affordable end, typical ranges today are around 280 miles. Charging speed is also an issue, with a full charge taking around 10 - 12 miles for the 250-mile range and up to 32 hours for Tesla’s Roadster.

However, batteries are still extremely heavy – which impacts the range – relatively inefficient, very expensive, have relatively short lifetimes and are prone to serious quality issues leading to high profile electric vehicle recalls for fire risk. Another issue with batteries that can’t be ignored are their reliance on rare earth elements (REE) and critical raw materials (CRM). Cobalt is especially problematic because of potentially unethical sourcing practices.

Research teams worldwide are racing to improve every aspect of battery performance, including increasing lifetime and range, reducing price and seeking to eliminate cobalt entirely. Novel electrode chemistries are in development and the inclusion of polymer materials are being studied. These could bring new properties that avoid current issues, such as in-built fire resistance and self-healing mechanisms to extend the life of the unit.


Hitachi Analyzer range for lithium-ion battery development

Hitachi High-Tech have a range of instruments ideal for lithium-ion battery research and development, from elemental mapping of electrode plates to determining thermal behavior to evaluate the fire risk of new materials:

The Hitachi EA8000 X-ray particle analyser is designed specifically for the detection and analysis of metal contaminants within lithium ion batteries. With high accuracy and precision at extremely fast measurement times, the EA8000 can be used to maintain quality across your lithium ion battery production.

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Our range of Thermal Analyzers give world-class baseline sensitivity and the opportunity to monitor the tiniest of thermal processes, essential when evaluating the exothermic behavior of novel electrolytes and cathode materials.

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Date: 11 January 2021

Author: Ashley-Kate McCann

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