Where Is Li-ion Technology Heading?
Apr 27, 2020 Dr Alex Holland
The Li-ion market is growing but which Li-ion chemistries and technologies are going to be used?
At their most basic, Li-ion cells consist of an anode, cathode and electrolyte - the anode and cathode being largely responsible for how a cell performs. While various cathode materials are used commercially, only graphite is widely used at the anode. However, this may well be set to change. Silicon has garnered industry-wide attention due its ability to store 10x the amount of lithium compared to graphite. However, the material can expand up to 300% when charging, a major issue as it leads to low cycle life. As such, start-ups developing silicon anodes have received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to find and scale solutions to this problem. And solutions do now exist, providing various opportunities for materials manufacturers. IDTechEx believe silicon dominant anodes will soon be utilised in mass market consumer devices before being rolled-out in the automotive sector later in the decade.
At the cathode, much of the discourse has been around high-nickel layered oxides, such as NMC 811 (the numbers refer to the relative proportion of nickel, manganese and cobalt). High-nickel cathodes are needed to reduce cobalt content and increase energy density. Major players such as LG Chem, CATL, SK innovation and EcoPro all plan to move toward NMC 811. But similar to silicon, commercialisation has been slow due to issues around poor stability, safety and cycle life. Various solutions exist to improve stability and are being developed. Even with these solutions, high-nickel cathodes will not be suitable for every application.
Li-ion technology has enabled the ubiquitous use of smartphones and laptops and is central to both the success of electric vehicles and the increasing penetration of renewable power. While the technology is not perfect, it provides reasonable energy density, power and cycle life at costs as low as $100/kWh and innovations continue to improve the technology. All of which means that Li-ion will continue to be the dominant battery technology, highlighting the importance of understanding developments in the market and technology.
The newly updated report "Li-ion batteries 2020-2030", from market intelligence company IDTechEx, provides detailed analysis of the various Li-ion chemistries and technologies being deployed and the applications they are best suited for. Importantly, the report provides in-depth analysis and commentary on the various innovations taking place and the strategies of various cell manufacturers.