Beyond Lithium-Ion Power

Price and availability issues are spurring the development of other battery chemistries.

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Fueled by its use in phones, electric cars and other portable electronic devices, Lithium-Ion is the dominant chemistry for reusable batteries on today’s market. The ultralight, power dense battery has seen explosive growth in the past few years, and this growth is expected to continue. 

Unfortunately, this growth also means price increases are projected to continue. Lithium prices rose 14 percent from 2015 to 2016, with larger increases across the market. These price increases are compounded by an expensive extraction process and a small number of sites with large quantities of lithium. Currently, the U.S. imports almost all of its lithium from either Chile or Argentina.

These mining operations will need to expand to keep up with increasing demand, and prices are unlikely to drop any time soon. This increasing cost, and a sense of curiosity, leads us to examine other potential chemistries for reusable batteries and solar storage. The most likely alternatives to lithium are sodium-ion and potassium-ion, although many other promising chemistries are beginning to emerge. 

A battery’s chemistry dictates its design, which consequently determines its charge, capacity, power density, temperature range, flammability, and other features. Newly emerging chemistries will need to be able to compete with lithium-ion. Namely, they need to be reusable, compact enough for portable applications, and maintain their charge with subsequent uses. Ideally, they would also be less expensive and safer than the notably flammable lithium-ion chemistry.