The nuclear industry points out, quite correctly, that the current technology of lithium batteries is flawed. The current batteries are extremely volatile in the presence of water. The current batteries must remain within a relatively narrow band of operating temperatures. The current batteries, both in consumer products and in industrial applications, are vulnerable to internal physical degradation with age. Many people have witnessed the swelling domestic lithium batteries, for example, laptop batteries, can under go. Such is the force of this expansion that laptops can be twisted out of shape and destroyed. Where a worn out and degraded lithium battery suffers an internal short circuit, high temperatures result which may cause a fire. Industrial lithium batteries are vulnerable to various failure states and are, in a degraded state or when driven beyond design limits, vulnerable to overheat and fire starting.
The nuclear industry correctly points out that in some countries, the manufacture of lithium batteries have resulted in the uncontrolled release of toxic chemicals into the environment. The nuclear industry and its advocates have discussed in public their acknowledgement of the regulations and methods which must be obeyed by all manufacturers of electronic components including lithium batteries. US and EC regulations aim to ensure sufficient containment and control of toxic waste does no harm. The planet has long been polluted by toxic chemicals and toxic radiologic chemicals as well. The nuclear industry assures us it’s nuclear waste is perfectly safe and economically stored. That it is not dispersed in an uncontrolled manner anywhere. Even the exclusion zone around three melted nuclear reactors is perfectly safe according to industry advocates. (see previous post for part of the reality to that).
The nuclear industry thus sees itself in a world where exclusion and nuclear agency controlled regions (eg the US Superfund sites, the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, the exclusion zone around Fukushima, the zone around Sellafield, that former fuel plant which is now a decontamination centre, providing a whole new range of jobs to a generation of nuclear worker – the cleanup worker- and which will be so for many years to come.) which it considers not needed and bad propaganda, while at the same time surrounded by the dangers of chemicals used in the making of semi-conductors, such as reactor control and sensing systems, solar panels and lithium batteries. Nuclear advocates post photos from China displaying the results of its semiconductor and battery manufacturing. The nuclear industry applauds the Chinese talent for building reactors (except of the AP!000 reactor there, which has again been delayed due to Chinese concerns about safety). However when it comes to using the photos of the effects of toxic electronic industry waste upon the environment, the nuclear industry regularly neglects to mention that the photos where taken in China and other nations which suffer from high levels of corruption and inadequate enforcement of the law.
The nuclear industry is fascinated with the idea that by comparing its behaviour in the West, both now and in the past, with current and recent environmental disasters of the chemically toxic kind from electronics manufacture is a PR bonus for itself. A recommendation that the choosing to pay more taxes to buy a state or national reactor will reduce the toxic material released by the chemical and electronics industries. Both of which the nuclear industry is reliant upon.
Further, the nuclear industry seems to forget that the average person can add up. Nuclear waste and emissions plus electronics toxic chemical waste is not better than electronics toxic waste alone. It’s worse.
The final answers to the nuclear industry in its strident condemnation of the technologies employed by the renewable energy industry centre around the promises made by the nuclear industry since the 1950s. 1. The promise of zero emission cars powered by nuclear energy. 2. The promise of cheap and safe electricity generation.
People with memory of the period from the 1950s to the 1960s and to some extent the 1970s will perhaps have a vague recollection of the repeated promise that nuclear industry would give the workers of the world a radically new form of personal transport, powered by a form of nuclear power. The industry also promised nuclear powered aircraft with nearly unlimited range. Though prototypes of the atomic aircraft reactor were made, and though one such aircraft carried aloft the nuclear reactor propulsion system, fuelled up but not actually powering the craft, the nuclear powered personal automobile never eventuated.
The nuclear powered aircraft cost billions and failed, the nuclear car, promoted heavily and no doubt at some cost both however served their purpose. In the post war world, which was slowly, very slowly, learning the truth about nuclear hazards and costs, the promise of nuclear safety and economy was critical to the public acceptance of nuclear reactors. If they could fly overhead with passengers traversing the world, if the motorist could drive for decades without the need of refuelling, well then, nuclear energy must be safe.
The reality is: The aircraft were blatant propaganda costing billions. The cars would only be a reality if plutonium or strontium thermal batteries were actually safe as an energy source for trucks, cars, buses and trains.
The safety of such nuclear thermal batteries, packaged in the boots and bonnets of cars hurtling down freeways, either in the 1950s or now is non existent. Image a nuclear Ford Pinto. Ting, and entire suburbs would need to be evacuated and decontaminated.
Besides, in a world where threats lie potentially anywhere, who would trust the common person with sufficient plutonium to power a car – add sufficient explosives to such a vehicle and it would be a mobile radiological weapon. It would be that in a normal and innocent accident. The futuristic promises of the nuclear industry have always been propaganda.
So of course, the nuclear industry doesn’t like the lithium battery. It’s safer than their radionuclide thermal batteries. But the present lithium batteries do need improving. Nuclear industry knows the flip side to their argument. Their promise of the 1950s – non polluting cars due to a lack of car exhaust – applied to today, would rely upon the same lithium batteries as solar storage does.
The rise of the lithium battery powered car presupposes and demands a battery manufacturing process which does not emit toxic chemicals either from the factories nor from the waste toxins the process results in. Waste storage and containment is critical. The history of the electronics industry is long, and bitter lessons have been learned and no doubt need to be relearned. However the sooner the nuclear industry confesses it’s view of the future relies upon the same batteries and the same need for the safe storage of toxic chemical waste, the more rational the nuclear industry energy storage will be.
In 2017 the Chinese government made it a key plank in the processes of government, industrialisation and public administration to ensure that the environment of China was restored. This was under taken to ensure that the natural world was able to sustain the needs of the Chinese people and the needs of the natural world. The Chinese government has many pressing issues. However history has repeatedly shown that when China is determined to achieve its domestic goals, it does so. In the modern era China has lifted more people out of poverty than I think any nation ever has, probably in the history of civilisation. There is little basis to doubt that China is able to control and store toxic chemicals from its electronics and battery production. While the West may be better at such things generally at the present time, there is little doubt China find the solutions it needs and that these solutions, when shared with other nations, will the world situation regarding toxic waste generally.
The nuclear industry remains unhappy that it’s nuclear waste is so easy to detect. The detectors are cheap and anyone can read a rad meter. It’s a lot harder to detect benzine or the solvents used in electronics etc. But then again nuclear industry relies upon traditional toxic chemicals in daily operation, while it generates waste with is both chemically and radiologically toxic. It is an industry which has new competitors in the energy market, and it does not like that market reality. I can always make bombs I suppose.
The Origins and Designed Purpose of the first Lithium Batteries.
“This year (, the battery industry celebrates the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the lithium ion rechargeable battery by Sony Corporation. The discovery of the system dates back to earlier work by Asahi Kasei in Japan, which used a combination of lower temperature carbons for the negative electrode to prevent solvent degradation and lithium cobalt dioxide modified somewhat from Goodenough’s earlier work. The development by Sony was carried out within a few years by bringing together technology in film coating from their magnetic tape division and electrochemical technology from their battery division. The past 25 years has shown rapid growth in the sales and in the benefits of lithium ion in comparison to all the earlier rechargeable battery systems. Recent work on new materials shows that there is a good likelihood that the lithium ion battery will continue to improve in cost, energy, safety and power capability and will be a formidable competitor for some years to come.
The present day market for lithium ion batteries is far more complicated than the original small electronic devices for the 3C market mentioned above. Many additional markets have been opened for small devices such as toys, lighting (LCD and fluorescent lights), e-cigarettes and vaporizers, medical devices, and many others. The discovery24,25 that lithium ion battery packs using 18650, 26700 and 26650 sizes can be designed to operate at much higher power than originally suspected has opened markets for portable electric tools, garden tools, e-bikes and many other products. While high energy 18650 cells now have as much as 3.4 Ah, the high power cells have sacrificed some capacity to obtain 20A or higher continuous discharge capability in the 18650 cell size. While some cells claim as high as 2.5 Ah capacity, it is difficult to sustain such a high capacity during cycling. Modeling studies by Reimers26 and Spotnitz and coworkers27 show clearly the important effect of multiple tabs and tab placement. Other important design variables are the electrode thickness, the carbon content of the positive electrode, the porosities of the electrodes and the type of carbon used in the negative electrode.
In addition, the development of ceramic coatings to the separator or the positive electrode has had a beneficial effect on preventing internal short circuiting during cycling due to adventitious presence of metal particles on the surface of electrodes. These particles are small and generally airborne and frequently result from mechanical slitting of the electrodes. The separator is only of the order of 12 to 25 μm thick so the concept that very small conductive particles can penetrate the separator and cause a short has been acknowledged as a major failure mechanism of lithium ion batteries.
There are several deficiencies of present day lithium ion batteries that, if remedied with suitable ease and cost parameters, would enable superior lithium ion batteries that could open new applications and expand the market for present ones. This section will discuss deficiencies of the lithium ion battery and possible approaches to improve the technology. First it is important to consider certain market factors that will have important ramifications on cost, material availability, and needed technology improvements to enable mass production of different cell types and sizes.
Market pull is strongly acting on lithium ion battery manufacturers as application companies and governments around the world are asking for increased capacity and energy with lower cost to fulfill the needs of greenhouse gas reductions through implementation of electric vehicles of all types to replace petroleum and energy storage so that intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar can replace coal and natural gas fuels for energy production. The cost element is particularly important, for example, for motive power applications, especially for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV). Recent estimates place the cost of producing lithium ion cells is as low as $145 per kWh and the cost of a battery pack as low as $190 per kWh.36 The goal of most auto manufacturers and the US Department of Energy is $125 per kWh for a battery pack.37 While the Tesla Motors Model S BEV has a 60 to 100 kWh battery, the new Chevrolet Bolt BEV will have a 60 kWh battery and the Tesla Model 3 will have a “less than” 60 kWh battery pack when available. The latter models are the first mass market BEVs that will have in excess of 200 miles (320 km) range which is believed to be a requirement for general public acceptance. Tables II and III give the data on many BEVs and PHEVs in current production including battery sizes and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated ranges, ranked by present sales in the US.
A second area of major production possibility is that of energy storage in connection with stabilization and storage for the electric grid. This area is driven as much by the requirements of government regulations and incentives to enable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind generation, which are inherently intermittent, to fit the demands of electrical utility producers and users.38 Many government and private demonstration projects are proceeding around the world and a great many energy storage schemes including alternative storage devices such as pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheels, etc. as well as many battery types such as flow batteries (mainly aqueous based at this point), lead acid, high temperature and others in addition to lithium ion. While the other methods do not concern this work, it is a fact that many of the demonstrations involve lithium ion because of the long cycle life and calendar life possible with conservative charging and discharging regimes. In addition, cost is a very important driver for use of lithium ion, but some applications such as frequency stabilization are not as cost sensitive. If lithium ion batteries are adopted for these applications, great demands will be placed on the availability of materials, especially lithium carbonate. It is likely that a very conservative approach will be used for lithium ion batteries, while inherently safer systems such as aqueous flow batteries will continue to see more innovation in order to achieve low cost objectives.
Twenty five years ago, the lithium ion battery made its debut into the market place as a result of innovative work by Asahi Kasei and development and marketing by the Sony Corporation. The realization of lithium ion batteries came about rapidly and has continued to display remarkable progress in capacity, energy, power and cost reduction. Safety remains a strong concern for the industry, but developments in separator technology have improved the outlook for safer batteries. With recent progress in new materials, the author projects that the lithium ion battery will continue to improve in all of its properties with successful implementation of new battery concepts in active materials, inert materials and cell designs.” end partial quote, source: Manuscript submitted October 17, 2016.
Revised manuscript received November 15, 2016.
Published December 1, 2016.
© The Author(s) 2016. Published by ECS. http://jes.ecsdl.org/content/164/1/A5019.full
While safer toxic waste storage from lithium battery production is expected to rapidly extend to China, the development of a temperature tolerant and fire proof lithium battery which does not react violently when in contact with water can be expected in the near to intermediate future.
U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland develop Fire and Explosion Safe Lithium Ion Battery
“ADELPHI, Md. — Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland have developed for the first time a lithium-ion battery that uses a water-salt solution as its electrolyte and reaches the 4.0 volt mark desired for household electronics, such as laptop computers, without the fire and explosive risks associated with some commercially available non-aqueous lithium-ion batteries.
Their work appears Sept. 6, 2017, in Joule, Cell Press’s new interdisciplinary energy journal.
This technology will bring the Soldiers a “completely safe and flexible Li-ion battery that provides identical energy density as the SOA Li-ion batteries. The batteries will remain safe — without fire and explosion — even under severe mechanical abuses,” said co-senior author Dr. Kang Xu, ARL fellow who specializes in electrochemistry and materials science.
“In the past, if you wanted high energy, you would choose a non-aqueous lithium-ion battery, but you would have to compromise on safety. If you preferred safety, you could use an aqueous battery such as nickel/metal hydride, but you would have to settle for lower energy,” Xu said. “Now, we are showing that you can simultaneously have access to both high energy and high safety. This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Program Agency – Energy. ” end partial quote. ARL Public Relations at https://www.army.mil/article/193407/army_umd_researchers_develop_water_based_lithium_ion_batteries_that_dont_explode
It is only of 2017 that a safe explosion proof lithium battery arose. The US Army is not the only organisation working on the development of safe, high energy density lithium batteries. Chinese researchers in conjunction with the University of Melbourne are working on similar safe lithium batteries.
When electric powered vehicles become significant in the world automotive market, the current generation of lithium ion batteries a major problem. At the end of their lives, that is, after about 10 years, millions of these old batteries will have to be safely stored around the world. That many old conventional lithium batteries present more than one hazard. The old batteries are toxic, fire prone and react destructively in the presence of water.
New generations of lithium batteries already exist in research labs which are safe and non reactive, enabling a much safer service life and much safer and easier storage.
It is premature in March 2018 to inflict millions of current generation lithium ion batteries upon the world. A proportion will cause fire in service and all of them present difficult to solve safe storage problem when the batteries are old and worn out.
As is expected given the market demand and hence rich rewards for successful research, the next generation of safer and easier to store lithium ion battery already exists and is being tested and perfected in laboratories around the world.