Researchers at Tesla have unveiled a design for a new electric vehicle battery that could last up to 100 years before needing to be replaced.
As the world looks to reduce carbon emissions, electric transportation is one of the ways that is being touted to achieve emission targets that countries have set themselves. To ensure this can be sustainable, countries need to switch to renewable sources of power, while electric vehicle makers need to ensure that the cars themselves do not become a cause of concern.
Elon Musk’s Tesla has teamed up with one of the world’s leading experts on battery technology, Jeff Dahn. One of the pioneers of the lithium-ion batteries that are used in most electric devices today, Dahn has been working on li-ion batteries ever since they were invented.
Jeff Dahn (born in 1957 in the United States and emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1970) is a Professor in the Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science and the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University. He is recognized as one of the pioneering developers of the lithium-ion battery that is now used worldwide in laptop computers, cell-phones, cars and many other mobile devices.
Dahn obtained his B.Sc. in Physics from Dalhousie University in 1978 and his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 1982.
Following his PhD, Dahn did research at the National Research Council of Canada from 1982 until 1985, before working at E-One Moli Energy until 1990. At that time, he took up a faculty position in the Physics Department at Simon Fraser University. Six years later, in 1996, Dahn returned to Dalhousie University as a professor in the Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science and began to focus his research on lithium-ion batteries.
From the time that he started doing research, Dahn has worked closely with industry. During his years at Simon Fraser University he worked with E-One Moli Energy. Upon moving to Dalhousie in 1996, Dahn became the NSERC/3M Canada Industrial Research Chair in Materials for Advanced Batteries, a position that he was to hold for the next 20 years. In June 2016, Dahn began a 5-year research partnership with Tesla Motors, in order to improve the energy density and lifetime of lithium ion batteries, along with reducing their cost.
Dahn works at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and Tesla set up its Advanced Battery Research division at the university to benefit from Dahn’s expertise in the area. Dahn has been credited for the commercial success of li-ion batteries after he worked on increasing their life cycles.
Now that these batteries are a runaway success and the foundation for electric transportation, Dahn has been working to increase their energy density and durability.
Energy density is the amount of energy that can be stored in a unit volume of fuel. This is an important metric for an electric vehicle since it determines its range. A battery with less energy density would need a larger battery pack to traverse a given distance. Conversely, a battery with higher energy density would occupy less space in the car while also addressing range anxieties associated with electric vehicles.
It is worthy of noting that fossil fuels such as gasoline pack the highest energy density known to humanity, and man-made battery packs are less than a hundred times as energy-dense as fossil fuels. However, the impact of fossil fuels on the climate has been too much to ignore, and we need to work on improving the battery technology that we have today.
Dahn’s work in this area has already produced a lot of patents and papers for Tesla, Electrek reported. A recent paper in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society provides details of a new type of battery cells that can be much superior to the li-ion cells in use.
The paper speaks about battery chemistry that uses nickel in its mix, bringing in high energy density to the picture which can ensure a higher range for electric vehicles. Interestingly, these batteries also demonstrate higher durability than li-ion batteries when charged at various temperatures. In a hypothetical situation where the battery is used at a temperature of 25 degrees at all times, the battery life could exceed 100 years, the paper notes.
In the past, nickel batteries have been used with cobalt in them. However, with concerns over cobalt, the researchers found that their new battery design would deliver desired results and work equally well with low or even no cobalt in the battery composition.
It is hardly a surprise, then, that Tesla recently opted to increase its cooperation with Dahn’s group through 2026. We can surely see Tesla exceeding range expectations in the future.
In the paper published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, titled “Li[Ni0.5Mn0.3Co0.2]O2 as a Superior Alternative to LiFePO4 for Long-Lived Low Voltage Li-Ion Cells,” authors explain the potential use of nickel-based battery chemistry. Like the lithium-ion phosphate batteries we use today, the proposed new technology holds a charge longer and has a higher energy density than its lithium-ion counterpart.
Since Tesla’s new battery technology requires fewer battery cells, it also helps solve the problems of material shortages and significantly brings down the cost of electric vehicles, according to Inhabitat.
The recent paper notes that the ideal citation for the battery to reach its maximum potential is to maintain temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius, which can last up to a century or even a little more. The recent design could work with little to no cobalt, which would lessen the battery’s environmental impact. Mining cobalt for batteries often leads to polluted waters, soil, and air, while miners often struggle with numerous health problems such as respiratory illnesses.
In the quest to develop a perfect battery, energy density is vital. Less density means a bigger battery is needed to go a specific distance. On the other hand, a higher energy density battery not only takes up less space in the car but will also allow the vehicle to run further. One of the reasons why fossil fuel still permeates today is because of its significantly higher energy density.
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