Canada's Condominium Magazine

Better batteries could be coming to a device or car near you

Battery-powered devices, from computer mice to hearing aids, are great, except that they use batteries. That is to say, the batteries die all too soon, depending on usage, and we have to replace (or recharge) them. But rechargeable batteries soon lose their capacity to recharge, and then there’s nothing to do but buy some more. The dead batteries pile up. And one is not supposed to throw them in the garbage. What is a conscientious consumer to do?

Dr. Chengdu Liang and his team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US have come up with a dry sulfur battery that has great potential in consumer and industrial use. For one thing, it solves the problem of battery flammability, and the batteries will have greater capacity and longer life than conventional lithium-ion batteries, he says.

Thank goodness, new battery technologies being developed in Germany and in the US could have far-reaching benefits for consumers who use cell phones, digital cameras and any or all of the battery-powered devices we take for granted. And this includes those who drive electric cars, as well as industrial users—aircraft manufacturers, makers of medical devices and military equipment. Not only are researchers finding ways to make the standard lithium-ion battery last longer and retain its chargeability, they are making it safer as well.

German scientists have created a lithium-ion battery that outperforms and outlasts all others currently available, they say. The German battery, the work of scientists at the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, has been tested and shown to retain 85 per cent of its original charge after 10,000 complete charging/discharging cycles. In terms of an electric car, that would be the equivalent of charging and discharging the battery for 27.4 years, the German team said. This is far in excess of the industry standard today, which requires that a lithium-ion car battery retain 80 per cent capacity after ten years. The developers of the ZSW battery are already working with automakers BMW and Daimler to take the battery to the next level and, they hope, begin mass production for the auto industry.

Meanwhile, in the US, researchers have come up with a promising way to use a dry sulfur compound, instead of liquid electrolyte, in a lithium-sulfur battery that has equally amazing capabilities. It has about eight times the capacity of a regular lithium-ion battery (1,200 milliamp hours vs 140–170 milliamp hours). This means it can store much more energy than the conventional battery. And because the chemical reaction does not depend on dissolving sulfur in liquid, the battery lasts much longer. Further, the design eliminates flammable liquid electrolytes that can react with lithium and cause fires and even explosions.

Still another benefit of the sulfur battery concept is that sulfur, as one of the researchers put it, is “practically free.” The sulfur used in the battery is a byproduct of the petroleum refining industry, so it is low cost and plentiful. The main drawback at present is the relatively low conductivity of the sulfur, which limits the voltage it can deliver. But they are working on it and hope to solve the problem soon.


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