Solid-state batteries are set to replace the conventional lithium-ion batteries in a few years to come. Lithium-ion batteries have been commercially used by consumers for electronics such as smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles.
The lithium-ion batteries use a highly flammable liquid electrolyte that moves the lithium ions between two electrodes – the anode and the cathode. They are currently considered to be the most efficient and lightest energy storage solutions.
However, they have limitations including safety, cost, charging, and discharging rates which will be avoided by developing solid-state batteries.
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What are solid-state batteries?
Solid-state batteries are batteries that are made up of solid materials. In other words, a solid component like glass, ceramic, or synthetic material replaces the electrodes and liquid electrolyte commonly used in lithium-ion batteries.
Ions have a hard time moving through solid metals than liquids, and since there are no liquid parts in a solid-state battery, their development is difficult and more expensive.
On one hand, using glasses and ceramics may not be a durable solution because of the brittleness of both materials. Considering that batteries are required in large quantities, it might not be viable to manufacture ceramics and glasses for the global market. Plus, the process will potentially emit toxic substances.
On the other hand, using polymers requires extremely high temperatures for the batteries to function. Developing a polymer that can conduct ions at room temperature is a slow process.
How does a solid-state battery work?
The main difference between lithium-ion batteries and solid-state batteries is the medium that allows the movement of ions. Instead of the salt electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries use ion-conductive solids.
The concept here is the redox reactions. Oxidation takes place at the anode and reduction occurs at the cathode, allowing the battery to store charge and discharge as needed.
The solid electrolytes utilized in a solid-state battery must provide a high electronic resistance, low internal resistance and more importantly, a high ionic conductivity. For higher charge retention, the solid electrolytes should be well insulated.
Why are solid-state batteries better?
What makes lithium-ion batteries bulky is the liquid separator and the safety precautions put in place to prevent drastic failures. The solid-state battery technology is poised to be better because of the following reasons:
- Dendrite formation is minimized. Dendrites are the metal deposits that form on the electrodes within a battery when charged. When the dendrites traverse the liquid electrolyte, they can cause shorts which can result in explosions. A solid-state battery eliminates this problem by getting rid of the liquid medium.
- Longer life cycles. Current batteries slowly lose their charge capacity and can become totally useless after two years. That’s why your laptop battery can’t go the whole day without recharging it at least twice. However, with tests already showing solid-state batteries achieving over 500 charge/discharge cycles, it goes to show how effective the new technology will be. This means you can use a solid-state laptop battery for longer hours.
- Battery size could significantly be reduced. The solid components used in solid-state batteries can be compressed into smaller sizes and even hold a higher energy capacity.
- Free of toxic gases. The liquid material found in lithium-ion batteries contains toxic substances that are extremely dangerous. On the other hand, solid-state batteries are safer since the flammable liquid is replaced by solid metals and alloys. Metals can withstand high temperatures which reduces the chances of explosions. Plus, researchers have developed a flame-retardant plastic so that the battery won’t catch fire.
- Faster recharge. Although still in development, tests indicate that charging times could increase up to ten times faster. In other words, it will be possible to fully recharge a solid-state battery in minutes. This will be a welcome advancement in electric cars, phones, and laptops.
- The liquid electrolyte in normal batteries can freeze in extremely cold temperatures. This limits their use. However, solid-state batteries are not affected by temperatures below zero degrees, thus operations don’t have to stop because of frozen batteries.
What are the drawbacks?
Solid-state batteries are still in the development phase. The lack of appropriate materials is stalling the advancements with researchers admitting that the electrolyte is the major block. A high performing electrolyte plays a big role in the overall performance of a battery.
Cracking that formula to find alternative solid materials that are highly conductive to function in large batteries will be a significant technological breakthrough.
Another drawback is the high production costs. Due to the nature of solid-state battery manufacturing, sophisticated equipment is required to handle the complex fabrication process. Such expenses are difficult to sustain in the long run and will lead to expensive end-products.
Will I get to use a solid-state battery in 2018?
Even with giant corporations like General Motors and Dyson injecting millions of dollars to the battery industry, we are still years away from experiencing electronic gadgets that utilize solid-state batteries. Therefore, with researchers still trying to understand the chemical compositions to use for a solid electrolyte, the nearest we can hope to use the batteries is 2020.
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