How much do you know about batteries?
These days, batteries power just about everything. They give life to your personal electronic devices, they support your power grids and they even drive cars. We are used to charging them overnight but it is not common knowledge on what happens inside them or how our phone battery is different from the one at the solar power station.
Therefore, in this blog post, we want to shed some light on the key characteristics of batteries and some of the differences between them - and try to determine if there is such a thing as an ideal battery.
Before we go any further, let’s start off by separating batteries into two classes: rechargeable and non-rechargeable. Non-rechargeable, also known as primary batteries, are the ones that can be used only once. They cost the least, are sold at your local supermarket, and can power a toy, a flashlight, and the faraway beacon. High specific energy, long storage times, and instant readiness give primary batteries a unique advantage over other power sources.
The second type of battery is rechargeable batteries, also known as secondary batteries. While these are more expensive and are being sold in fewer quantities and having a higher price, this type is the core of the electrification which Geyser is working on. Hence, below we will specifically look into the main characteristics of secondary batteries.
Main characteristics to consider (and pay for)
There is a huge variety of rechargeable batteries already in use and many more are in development and early adoption. You may not have heard too much about redox-flow or Zinc-air batteries, but nearly everyone has used Li-ion batteries, Ni-MH, and lead-acid batteries.
Batteries differ by quantitative parameters that one can buy, like stored energy and power (the more money you pay, the more kilos of battery you get, and the more energy they can store). Additionally, batteries differ by their limitations (number of cycles, safety, etc). As an example, the lithium-ion battery is lightweight and rechargeable and can store an incredible amount of energy inside that is used in all the portable electronics. However, you have to keep its limitations in mind, including thermal runaway if stressed, degradation at high temperature, and no rapid charge possible under 0C. You can tune it and add multiple protection layers etc., but this will increase the size and cost of the product.
Safety also needs to be taken into account. One of the key KPIs of a battery is how quickly it assumes energy when it is charging - the less time it takes the better. This causes a lot of heat generation. If something goes wrong, even in one cell of a battery, and it heats up too much, it becomes unstable and will heat up further, eventually catching fire or exploding. As the neighboring cells get heated too, this instability can propagate very fast, causing a major fire with toxic fumes.
So, is there one ideal battery?
In many ways, the ideal battery depends on what you need it for. As an example, lithium-ion batteries with all the great characteristics mentioned above, are dangerous and even the slightest possibility of short circuit should be avoided. Because of this, NiMH batteries are a better fit for, say, electric toothbrushes. Tesla traction batteries, on the other hand, are lithium-ion based, and Elon & co. have managed to make their cars drive significantly long hours on this technology, with the result being a major commercial success and plenty of loyal customers. However, this type of battery would be too expensive to use as a starter battery. Hence, the starter battery of any car is lead-acid (even in hybrid vehicles) which can work in a pretty wide temperature range and does not cost much.
The growing concerns over the use of fossil fuels, and particularly diesel, is set to impact the heavy-equipment market (cranes, excavators, etc). Electrification is already emerging as a major trend in this area. The bottleneck for such electrification, however, is the battery that needs to be safe under extreme loads and also needs to last through hundreds of thousands of high-power discharge cycles. To adapt lithium-ion batteries to this task, their performance is closely controlled by the powertrain “talking” to the so-called Battery Management System (BMS) and is limited so that their state of health is not deteriorating too fast to avoid hazardous conditions and/or frequent swapping of “dead” batteries. Hence, lithium batteries face an uncertain reality, and clearly scientific innovation is needed to meet the requirements of heavy-duty applications.
The technology that Geyser Batteries is offering allows extreme fast charging and high power energy discharge. However, the breakthrough here is not coming from an extra layer of protection of a lithium-ion battery, but from entirely new chemistry. Our technology is the perfect solution to any application where highly cyclic and high power capability is required. This can be in the form of ICE-electric hybrid drives or using Geyser Battery in parallel with a high energy battery like lithium-ion.
To get back to the initial question of this post, ideal batteries do exist, but for each given application. The actual choice of what battery to use needs to be made based on specific requirements and usage profiles.