|Long(er) Live the Lithium-ion Battery!
It’s hard to believe that the revolutionary, game-changing rise in demand for lithium-ion batteries – for everything from cell phones and web-enabled tablet devices to hybrid and electric cars – has a direct link to the remote, high desert regions of Argentina. It’s there, from vast dry lakes known as salars, that FMC draws a renewable and naturally occurring resource, lithium salts.
Lithium may be the lightest of metals, but its impact is weighty. Primary (single-use) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries use a powerful and stable form of lithium that has the highest known potential to store and release energy – and to repeat that cycle again and again.
Lithium is pushing the production of more energy- and cost-efficient batteries to propel today’s electric vehicles (EVs), and spurring a bright vision for the EVs of tomorrow. See related article.
Three of the main cell components of a battery are the anode, cathode and electrolyte. While FMC supplies lithium for all three components, the lithium for the cathode does its most important work: storing and then supplying the positive charge that delivers the energy that makes the vehicle move.
Can lithium go the distance?
Batteries featuring lithium-ion technology are lighter, less bulky and more efficient than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently powering most hybrid electric vehicles. These major benefits aside, the auto industry knows that the technology must continue to evolve to give consumers what they really want.
And what they want is distance. Consumers expect an EV that will give them at least a full day of driving: commuting, traveling or just transporting family members where they need to go. The EV technology is not yet able to meet that demand.
FMC supplies both lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide to the first commercial versions of the EV, including the Nissan LEAF, GM Volt and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The range of the Leaf and i-MiEV is 100 miles without recharging, and 40-60 miles for the Volt (which is actually a PHEV, or plug-in hybrid that augments its range with an internal combustion engine). That kind of battery range is fine for short jaunts around town, but is a barrier to wider consumer acceptance.
Extensive research is underway to help produce batteries that deliver higher levels of energy while maintaining safety – the key to both longer battery life and greater driving distance. The goals are to extend the cycle life of EV batteries to thousands of cycles and, for hybrids, tens of thousands of micro-cycles, thereby extending the driving range to 300 miles. This all requires greater energy and power density within the batteries.
The auto industry foresees demand for 1 million EVs in the United States by 2015. That level of demand will help reduce costs for lithium-ion batteries, since certain advantages come naturally with increased market demand: manufacturing costs per unit shrink as volume rises.
Driving the future of EVs
So, what is FMC doing to nurture and serve this demand? A few years ago, we established the Center for Lithium Energy Advanced Research (CLEAR) Lab to explore and expand the technology base for lithium-driven batteries such as those used in EVs.
The lab offers training to industry and academia in the safe handling of lithium and develops customized solutions for specific customer applications. Equipped with a state-of-the art dry room and equipment to assemble full lithium-ion cells, the CLEAR Lab is used regularly by customers to incorporate FMC’s innovative products and technology into their batteries’ designs.
At the forefront is FMC’s exclusive Lectro® Max 100, Stabilized Lithium Metal Powder (SLMP®). SLMP represents a significant advance for wider lithium applications: Normal lithium powder can only be handled in an argon-filled glove box and is not commercially available as a powder, while SLMP is safe to handle in a dry room, can be transported by air or sea according to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, and features a metallic lithium content of at least 98 percent.
SLMP effectively introduces a lithium source to the battery’s anode, providing an increase in energy density, improvements in safety and calendar life, and cost reductions.
From the remote, arid regions of the Andes Mountains to the crowded expressways half a world away, FMC is paving the way for wider distribution and acceptance of EVs for a greener planet. The cumulative impact over time – of cleaner air, reduced concerns about a warming planet, less reliance on energy from hostile sources and many other related benefits – makes the quest for a better EV solution well worth the journey.
Related article: Powering the Drive to Energy Independence