The Great Nobel Prize History of Lithium-Ion Batteries: The New Era of Electrochemical Energy Storage Solutions

Prasanth Raghavan, Jabeen Fatima M. J., and Jou-Hyeon Ahn


Energy plays an exceptional role in human life, and its demand and supply have always been crucial factors in the evolution of civilization. Energy demand has increased dramatically over time or with increasing population. Energy has always been the most essential resource for achieving the improvement of human life, for example, for heating and cooling, operating electronic and electrical appliances, for transportation, communication, and recreation, etc. In this modern era, one cannot imagine even one day without external supplies of energy [1]. Global energy consumption is expected to show an increase of 28% by 2040 [2], and it is widely reported that the future energy demands cannot be satisfied by current technologies. There are also predictions that the next world war may also be over energy [3]. As we are moving to a revolution of automation and of electric/hybrid vehicles having zero emissions, we need more advanced and environmentally friendly technologies. The present reserves of fossil fuel energy sources will be depleted in a few decades, due to high demand and, in some cases, extravagant consumption. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are generally referred to as fossil fuels [1,4].

Recently, the inevitable depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels, the move to zero- emission vehicles, and the dream of a clean environment, have forced mankind to transit away from using fossil fuels as the main global energy source. Green energy sources, such as solar, hydroelectric, thermal, wind, and tidal energy, will eventually replace traditional energy sources, although most of these renewable energy sources are typically periodic or intermittent in supply. Production of electricity from the aforementioned renewable sources needs electrochemical energy storage devices, such as batteries, supercapacitors, and fuel cells, which will play an important role in the efficient use of renewable energy during periods when supplies are depleted. Figure 2.1 shows the Ragone plot of the specific power against specific energy for various electrochemical energy conversion systems [5]. Amongst different electrochemical energy storage devices, batteries are crucial in solving these problems, as they can efficiently store electricity in the form of chemicals and subsequently release it, according to demand.

The battery is a collective arrangement of electrochemical cells in which chemical energy is converted into electricity and is used as a source of power by a chemical reaction, thereby storing the energy, which is subsequently released as electrons and ions [6]. The first battery, the Voltaic pile, consisting of a series of copper and zinc discs separated by cardboard moistened with a salt solution, was developed by Volta in 1800. With more than 200 years of subsequent development, battery technology has reached an era where batteries can be made in any size, ranging from macro to nano, with shapes ranging from cylindrical to prismatic or even paper batteries, with fabrication techniques from roll-to-roll printing to paintable batteries [7, 8] and are useful for a wide range of different applications.

Development of Energy Storage Devices

The importance of portable energy storage devices was highlighted by the introduction of batteries. Batteries are broadly classified as primary or secondary batteries.

Ragone plot of specific power against specific energy for various electrochemical energy storage systems

FIGURE 2.1 Ragone plot of specific power against specific energy for various electrochemical energy storage systems. Adapted and reproduced with permission from Ref. [5]. Copyright © 2004 American Chemical Society.

Primary batteries are irreversible batteries that are disposed of after being completely used, whereas secondary batteries are renewable and reversible battery systems, that can be charged and discharged a large number of times [1].

During the Parthian period (248 BC), a battery was constructed and was later displayed in Baghdad Museum. Wilhelm Konig investigated the details of this battery and it was termed the “Baghdad battery”. The battery was a kind of primary voltaic cell with a copper compartment and a pointed iron rod. Addition of acidic electrolytes, such as vinegar or lime juice, would initiate the cell reaction [9]. Later, in 1749, Benjamin Franklin coined the name “battery” following his experiments on capacitors. But the discovery of the battery was achieved by Alessandro Volta, in 1800. The experiment was conducted with an aqueous salt membrane sandwiched between copper and zinc discs, and the connection produced a voltage of 0.76 V. The experiment is considered to be the initial experiment of electrochemistry. The cell so formed was known as the “galvanic cell” with two half-cells (zinc and copper). In 1836, John Frederic Daniel developed another type of electrochemical cell which generated about 1 V [10]. In 1859, the French physicist Gaston Plante introduced the first rechargeable battery, the “lead-acid battery” [11]. The battery was fabricated by rolling lead foils sandwiched between rubber strips. Georges-Lionel Leclanche introduced a new type of electrochemical cell in 1866, with carbon as the anode (negative electrode), and zinc as the cathode (positive electrode) in an electrolyte of ammonium chloride, generating a voltage of 1.4 V. The cell was termed the “Leclanche cell” [12]. A modified version of the Leclanche cell was subsequently commercialized as a dry cell with a carbon anode and zinc as the cathode. These cells were widely used in early telecommunication systems. A thermoelectric battery was introduced by Ernst Waldmar Jungner in 1869 [13]. In 1908, he also introduced “electrodes for reversible galvanic batteries”. Nickel-iron, nickel-cadmium, etc. were used as electrodes for the fabrication of rechargeable batteries in an alkaline electrolytic medium.

The lead-acid battery is known to be the first commercial battery. These batteries possess comparatively very high efficiency (80-90%) but the capacity available decreases on the removal of input power [14]. Apart from the decrease in efficiency, the large size and particularly the heavy weight of these batteries, and leakage risks are some of the common disadvantages, which decreased the applications of these batteries as energy storage devices. Despite these problems, the system is still commercially used as a household energy storage system in combination with inverters, as well as in fossil fuel-powered transportation systems. Usually, aircraft powered by lead-acid batteries contain 6-12 batteries, connected in series to produce a voltage in the range 12-24 V [15]. Another major commercial battery is the nickel- cadmium (Ni-Cd) battery. Up to the past three decades, Ni-Cd batteries were the most-marketed energy storage device. These rechargeable energy storage systems were widely used in portable electronic devices like toys, AA-type batteries, AAA- type batteries, etc. Usually, the power generated was lower, so that, to enhance the power, two or more systems are connected in series with one another and sealed in a stainless-steel pack. The major drawback of these batteries is the “memory effect” [16]. The memory effect can be explained in terms of a memory of the initial point of the charging cycle, as a result of which a sudden potential drop is experienced at the same point. This drop affects the battery performance for potential applications. During the initial stages of battery commercialization, alkaline batteries were used as AA and AAA batteries. But, because these exhibited leakage issues, the basic components were replaced by nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, and lithium- ion batteries. Current energy storage depends largely on lithium-ion batteries.

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