Energy

Is lithium-ion the ideal way to fuel the future of renewable energy?

Summary

Go outside Reno and Las Vegas as well as into the high desert, and you’ll have plenty of open, wide space. It’s mainly packed with sagebrush and desert grass. In central Nevada’s Silver Peak Range, something more is hidden beneath the old […]

Go outside Reno and Las Vegas as well as into the high desert, and you’ll have plenty of open, wide space. It’s mainly packed with sagebrush and desert grass. In central Nevada’s Silver Peak Range, something more is hidden beneath the old volcanic rock: lithium. In anything from antidepressant drugs to ceramics, the metallic component has been used for years. It is now being harvested in large amounts, mainly for electric cars. Lithium-ion batteries lay the groundwork for the future of clean energy. This technology powers our computers, smartphones as well as electric vehicles. Yet, it has had its portion of well-publicized security problems as well.

Some claim it may not be the solution to our greater need for electricity. “Because it retains more resources, it presents additional risks. The lithium-ion energy density is greater than most of the other batteries,’ stated the National Fire Protection Association’s, Andrew Klock. Even with some popular lithium-ion battery crashes, Klock stated he’s not worried about electric car safety. It’s because battery management techniques have Electric cars as well as other tools that warn users if something’s wrong. “The other day, my Android notified me I had so many available applications. It is overheating. ‘Immediately shut them down,” Klock stated. “But that is a strong method of management, right?”

Sure, for a single battery cell. But Donald Sadoway, MIT Materials Science and Engineering Professor, said it’s challenging to maintain large-scale systems cool, such as those that hold energy from wind or solar installations. Sadoway explained, “The lithium-ion needs safety measures to be placed in place such that you don’t even get a voltage fluctuation, which could potentially lead to a fire. In the month of September, an energy storage facility utilizing lithium exploded and went up in flames in the United Kingdom. In 2019, another one in Arizona exploded, killing nine first responders. Over time, the lithium-ion batteries lose power, Sadoway stated, leaving them less than perfect for electric vehicles.

“You have plenty of running time on your smartphone and desktop computer on the first day. It isn’t the same on first day plus five,” he said. He said that the problem now is to figure out how to figure out a solution before adding to the cost. Sadoway is experimenting with battery technology using molten salts with his partner at MIT. Others who are taking up the task include Larry Zulch. The Chief executive of Invinity Energy Systems is Zulch. There’s another metal his business deals with vanadium.

“It’s typically used for steel hardening. In the Model T, Henry Ford used it,” stated Zulch. His firm is designing clean energy storage vanadium flow batteries. However, the chemistry here is also not fine. There is a need for vanadium batteries to be larger as well as heavier than lithium. Also, stated Zulch, the good ones outweigh the negative ones. “In their use, they are infinite. By cycling them, you don’t stretch them out. Over time, you do not wear them out.”

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