Breakthrough helps Calcium Ion batteries move closer to reality

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Lithium Ion batteries rely on the mass availability of several rare earth elements which are in increasingly short supply so we need alternatives.

 

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Even as companies look for new ways to completely replace today’s ubiquitous Lithium-Ion batteries (LiON), using everything from new polymers and Lithium-Metal batteries through to spray on solar panels and beyond, new Calcium based batteries could be a step closer thanks to a newly synthesised chemical discovered by researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm in Germany, who have been looking for a safer and cheaper alternative.

 

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Until now, researchers working on calcium batteries have lacked a suitable electrolyte, the medium through which electrical charge flows, and batteries with anodes made of calcium, a far more abundant substance than Lithium which as demand soars will likely suffer from supply shortages in the future even as investment in the space also soars, might be more sustainable and safer than batteries with lithium anodes.

Researcher Zhirong Zhao-Karger and her colleagues reacted a calcium compound with a fluorine-containing compound to create a new type of calcium salt. The resulting material conducted electricity more effectively than any calcium-based electrolyte yet reported. It also efficiently conducted ions at a higher voltage than other calcium-based electrolytes.

 

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Lithium, now used in most electrochemical storage systems and electronic devices, is relatively expensive because of limited supplies and has technical disadvantages. LiOn batteries have numerous drawbacks – they sometimes catch fire, and they depend on increasingly scarce and toxic substances such as lithium and cobalt to produce.

To create lithium based batteries, for example, there is a need for a range of rare earth metals – metals that are now a global political hot potato because China controls most of the supply – and which require heavy mining and manufacturing that emit significant emissions. Furthermore, major components such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt exist in a finite amount that is unlikely to meet the current and future demands for battery units.

Meanwhile, Calcium-Ion batteries (CaIO), long tipped as a viable replacement, have at least twice the number of electrons as lithium units, which means higher power density in a thinner, lighter package.

 

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Calcium is about 2,500 times as abundant as lithium in nature, making the CaIO battery a promising candidate for next-generation batteries due to its high performance and low cost. However, CaIO have been unsuccessful when it comes to reaching the right energy-performance levels. Until now.

The search for alternatives to lithium batteries is mostly due to demand for extended-range electric vehicles and batteries for portable gadgets that can give a longer life span, as well as a need to reduce manufacturing costs.

Electric vehicles are set to make up more than half of global passenger car sales by 2040 and completely dominate the bus market, according to this year’s Electric Vehicle Outlook report.

 

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Electrics will also, allegedly, take up 57 percent of the global passenger car sales by 2040, with electric buses dominating their sector, holding 81 percent of municipal bus sales by the same date. Electric models will also make up 56 percent of light commercial vehicle sales, so, as you can see, we have a clear need for performant and reliable LiOn battery alternatives.

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