Challenges and Drawbacks of Lithium Batteries: A Comprehensive Overview
In the 19th century, the introduction of batteries marked a revolutionary advancement in energy storage, leading to unprecedented innovations. From traditional copper and zinc discs bound by electrolytes, batteries have evolved into indispensable components of daily life. Among the various types, lithium-ion batteries have emerged as the go-to choice in residential, commercial, and educational settings, praised for their high energy density and extended operational lifetimes, particularly in portable electronic devices and electric transportation.
However, the praise for lithium-ion batteries is not without reservations. Despite their accelerated charging capabilities, extended lifespan, and enhanced power density, they face several issues and drawbacks:
In an enlightening piece featured in Air Quality News, Dr. Beatrice Browning, a researcher affiliated with the Faraday Institution, sheds light on the potential harm inflicted on battery electrode structures by the continuous cycles of lithium-ion ions entering and leaving electrodes. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s research, spearheaded by Dr. Browning, identifies temperature, state of charge (SoC), and load profile as the three pivotal external stress variables influencing the degradation process. However, establishing a universal criterion for defining a cycle proves elusive, as Battery University argues, given the variable discharge depths.
The finite number of lifecycles inherent in lithium-ion batteries results in a gradual loss of capacity over time. The intricacies of cycle counting, as mentioned by Battery University, underscore the inconclusiveness stemming from discharge depth variations. Furthermore, the overall lifespan of lithium-ion batteries, notably in applications like electric vehicles, faces influences from external factors such as weather, charging techniques, and the rate of charge. Newark Electronics adds another layer to this complexity, highlighting that even during periods of inactivity, lithium-ion batteries may age due to regular discharge. Compounding these challenges are manufacturing defects and other uncontrollable factors that may lead lithium batteries down a path of degradation, potentially resulting in catastrophic consequences.
The phenomenon of battery swelling serves as a glaring indicator of various underlying issues, ranging from fundamental misuse—such as overcharging or incorrect voltage application—to external factors like broken membranes or manufacturing flaws. Beyond the evident aesthetic concerns, including cases visibly protruding, battery swelling can pose potential harm.
A significant legal episode unfolded in 2019 when residents of New Jersey initiated a class-action lawsuit against Apple concerning battery swelling issues in the Apple Watch. Plaintiffs underscored the safety risk associated with battery swelling, citing instances where it led to the snapping off or shattering of the Apple Watch screen.
Further legal ramifications emerged in 2021 with another class-action complaint in California. This complaint alleged that every model, devoid of sufficient measures to prevent thermal incidents, faced the danger of detached, shattered, or cracked screens. The root cause was attributed to insufficient space allocated within the device for the rectangular-shaped, electromagnetically charged lithium cobalt oxide battery.
While some aspects of these legal battles were reported to be dropped, Court House News highlighted the persisting danger of bodily harm. It’s not solely an issue specific to Apple; many other manufacturers utilizing lithium-ion batteries in their electronic devices grapple with similar problems, emphasizing the widespread challenges associated with battery swelling in the electronics industry.
The prevalence of lithium-ion batteries in modern electric cars is driven by their acknowledged energy efficiency and lightweight design. Despite being less prone to overheating, these batteries still pose a risk of catching fire, typically stemming from thermal runaway or uncontrollable heating. According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, over 240 lithium-ion battery fires occurred at 64 municipal trash sites in the United States between 2013 and 2020.
A glaring example of the potential hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries surfaced in 2016 when Samsung took the drastic step of permanently discontinuing the Galaxy Note 7 series. The decision was prompted by a design flaw that caused the devices to practically explode rather than merely overheat. Reports from users, including those with replacement models, detailed instances of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones exploding.
Months after halting production, Samsung faced scrutiny from CNBC, revealing issues related to lithium-ion battery short circuits and welding flaws. As a response, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall covering 1.9 million Galaxy Note 7 phones in the United States, highlighting the urgent need to address safety concerns associated with lithium-ion batteries in consumer electronics.
Poor battery disposal practices
Recognizing the inevitable decline in the functionality of lithium-ion batteries, it becomes imperative to grasp the limited options available for their proper disposal. While some may casually dispose of AA batteries in regular trash, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly advises against incorporating lithium-ion batteries into household waste or standard recycling containers. The inherent risk of fire incidents associated with lithium-ion batteries adds complexity to their transportation, posing challenges during transit in trucks and disposal in landfills.
To ensure responsible waste management, it is crucial to transport inoperable lithium-ion batteries to designated garbage collection and recycling facilities. The EPA recommends additional precautions, such as taping terminals and storing batteries in plastic bags, acknowledging the need for heightened safety measures. However, it is prudent to consult the specific guidelines provided by battery manufacturers to adhere to proper disposal procedures effectively.
Despite modern and efficient methods emerging for extracting copper from lithium-ion batteries, the field anticipates substantial growth in the future. Notably, emew Corporation stands out as a technological contributor, showcasing advancements in this realm. As the industry evolves, responsible disposal practices and innovative technologies will play pivotal roles in mitigating environmental impacts associated with lithium-ion batteries.
Expensive to manufacture
In the realm of battery chemistries, lithium batteries claim the top spot in terms of cost, boasting an estimated per-kWh price of $132 in 2021, as reported by EPEC. This elevated cost is, however, often rationalized by the superior performance and longevity that lithium batteries deliver.
While lithium-ion batteries currently stand as the preferred choice for a diverse range of gadgets, the evolving landscape of societal demands prompts a contemplation of future battery components. The imperative lies in developing solutions that not only meet current needs but also align with the shifting requirements of our dynamic society. Moreover, there is a hopeful outlook that the decreasing cost of lithium will pave the way for increased accessibility, potentially ushering in a new era of more cost-effective and efficient battery technologies.
Furthermore, new battery technologies, such as aluminum-ion batteries, are being developed, which have a far quicker charging time than lithium-based batteries. Nevertheless, their density is usually not the same as lithium-ion batteries. Even if it results in a lower range per charge, quick charging is a crucial concern for owners of electric vehicles. Thus, this might lower the barriers to EV changeover.