Electric cars are playing a significant role in the transition to minimizing carbon emissions. These were invented by 1884 and are now becoming more common on the roads today. A battery is a limiting factor when it comes to electric cars. Lack of range is a major factor limiting some people from ditching their diesel or petrol-powered cars.
Governments, manufacturers, and consumers are paying more attention to lowering their carbon emissions. This has encouraged massive development in the car battery industry. Improvement in battery technology has led to the production of compact, lightweight, affordable, and high-performance batteries.
- 1 Metal-air batteries
- 2 Solid-state batteries
- 3 Lithium-ion batteries
- 4 Aluminum ion batteries
- 5 Lithium-sulfur batteries
- 6 How sustainable are vehicle car batteries?
- 7 Sourcing raw materials
- 8 Production process
- 9 End of life management
- 10 Bottom line
Here are the options for electric car batteries today.
These are batteries having an ambient air cathode and pure metal anode. Most car batteries with a cathode are bulky since it contributes to most of the weight. Fortunately, a metal-air battery has oxygen for a cathode making it lightweight. Some of the metals for this battery include zinc, lithium, sodium, and aluminum. On the flip side, the air and metals of this battery have cyclability problems and lifespan.
These are batteries with solid electrolyte materials. The construction of solid-state batteries comes with various benefits. These batteries eliminate worry about electrolyte leaks that might cause a fire. This is because the electrolyte used is flame resident. Other benefits of solid-state batteries include extended lifetime, operation within an extended temperature range, and elimination of costly and bulky cooling mechanisms.
Most electric cars today use lithium-ion batteries. Carmakers such as Nissan and Tesla invested a lot in Lithium-ion technology. In this battery, the lithium ions with a positive charge travel from the anode to the cathode in an electrolyte. Lithium-ion batteries have high cyclability which is the time for recharging the battery without losing its efficiency. However, this battery also has low energy density which refers to energy storage in a unit volume.
On the flipside, lithium-ion batteries overheat and can catch fire in Tesla cars, laptops, and Boeing jets. This is because lithium heats up to expand while charging causing lithium ions to leak and build upon the surface of the battery. It creates a risk of short-circuiting the battery leading to a decrease in its lifespan.
Aluminum ion batteries
These batteries rely on similar technology as lithium-ion batteries. The only difference is that aluminum ion batteries rely on an aluminum anode. Aluminum batteries seek to overrun the weakness of lithium-ion batteries by enhancing safety at a lower cost. Researchers at Stanford University improved the biggest problems of aluminum batteries.
Cyclability was enhanced through the use of a graphite cathode and an aluminum metal anode. Another benefit of this innovation is making bending possible and the significant reduction in charging times. More research is going on to enhance aluminum battery technology.
These are batteries for electric cars with a sulfur-carbon cathode and lithium anode. Lithium-sulfur batteries offer a lower cost and higher theoretical compared to lithium-ion batteries. These batteries have low cyclability resulting from harmful reactions and expansion with electrolytes which is the most significant drawback.
Luckily, the cyclability of lithium-sulfur batteries was improved by combining solar panels to power an unmanned aerial vehicle and space exploration for NASA. Some of the most significant benefits of lithium-sulfur batteries today include:
- Enhanced safety
- Higher energy density
- Availability of material
- Better environmental impact
How sustainable are vehicle car batteries?
Sustainability is the driving force behind the various innovations and growing popularity of electric cars. These produce limited emissions from their tailpipes to maintain local air quality and to minimize climatic change. Among the various options for electric car batteries, understanding their manufacturing lifecycle in comparison to sustainability is very important.
Car batteries have significant environmental impacts that require finding solutions to minimize including the following.
Sourcing raw materials
The various materials for making electric car batteries produce different emissions depending on their source. There is a great concern for material like cobalt sourced from conflict zones or areas with political unrest like the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa. This country has poor working conditions in the mines with meager pay including the use of child labor.
These batteries are produced through energy-intensive means leading to increased emissions to the environment. The factories where this happens are responsible for various cases of pollution to the local environment.
End of life management
Just like regular batteries, electric car batteries can reach their end of life. So, they become unstable and are likely to end in landfills. Here they come with a risk of toxic pollution and causing fire. Additionally, some areas lack collection and recycling facilities leading to more impact on the environment.
Many people are switching to electric cars with the biggest inspiration being to lower their environmental impact. These cars rely on advanced battery technology including solid-state. Due diligence is necessary to ensure that the choice of battery contributes to the sustainability goal.