A Brief History Of The Lithium-Ion Battery
Lithium-ion batteries have been around for decades, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists began to develop them for commercial use. The first lithium-ion battery was produced in 1971 by British scientists, who used lithium as the anode. In 1978, they were used in medical equipment like ventilators and pacemakers because they had a longer lifespan than previous types of batteries.
This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and EVs. Want to learn more about this best-in-class battery? Check out this brief history!
In 1982, Sharp Corporation became one of the first companies to use lithium-ion batteries commercially when they developed for use in mobile phones. One year later, Sony followed suit with its own version of a portable phone. Since then, there has been an explosion in the use of these types of batteries across many different industries and product categories, including laptops and other portable electronics such as cameras and gaming systems.
Early lithium-ion battery research focused on finding a rechargeable battery that used lithium metal as its cathode. This was because of the high energy density of lithium. As early as 1912, people were trying to create batteries out of the substance. However, lithium is highly volatile and reactive with water vapor in the atmosphere (and can catch fire). This makes it difficult to work with—if you’re not careful when handling it or charging your batteries, they could explode.
The more researchers discovered about lithium, the more they realized it would not make an ideal cathode material.
- Lithium is too reactive, which makes manufacturing difficult.
- It doesn’t conduct electricity very well, reducing battery life and capacity.
- Its poor thermal stability means that if you can’t maintain the proper temperature, it will overheat and catch fire (or worse).
To top it all off, the batteries required a thick layer of electrolyte between the two electrodes to prevent fires from happening, making them even less efficient than alkaline batteries.
John B Goodenough, a German-American researcher, continued to work on improving lithium-ion performance. He created a rechargeable battery with lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode, generating a current of about 4V. This was regarded as a significant advancement in the development of lithium-ion batteries. The use of lithium cobalt oxide supported the battery’s ability to recharge after each charge. It doubled the battery’s energy potential while allowing for the production of more powerful batteries.
Lithium cobalt oxide also had another significant advantage over other cathode materials: it was much more stable and less likely to catch fire. That’s why it’s used in most commercial lithium-ion batteries today.
In 1985, Akira Yoshino joined Sony and began experimenting with carbon as an alternative cathode material. He found that this provided significantly improved performance over the traditional lithium-cobalt oxide batteries being used at the time. Five years later in 1990, Sony introduced the first commercial lithium-ion batteries based on Yoshino’s work to the marketplace. The first commercial product that used carbon as a cathode was released by Sony in 1991, which was a rechargeable battery for camcorders.
In 1991, Sony began selling lithium-ion batteries, which were an incredible success. In 1993 alone, Sony sold 3 million batteries—and 15 million the following year. Lithium-ion batteries have remained popular.
Yoshino’s work, though technically not the first commercial lithium-ion battery, was a breakthrough for its time because it produced a stable, long-lasting battery that could be used in consumer electronics devices.
In 2019, Whittingham, Goodenough, and Yoshino were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their development of “lithium-ion batteries.” With a lithium-ion battery, you can have your cake and eat it too—it’s the perfect combination of high energy density and low weight.
The increased capacity in lithium-ion batteries has led to their widespread use in mobile phones, laptops and other portable electronic devices. They are also employed by NASA for deep space missions such as Voyager 1 (launched in 1977), New Horizons (launched in 2006), and James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for launch 2021).
Aside from having a high energy density, lithium-ion batteries can also efficiently store renewable energy sources. This contributes to reducing the amount of fossil fuel humans use, thereby significantly reducing the greenhouse effect. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries have a long lifespan due to their relatively quick charging time and charge-discharge cycles.
Llithium-ion battery development has been and will continue to be a technology that can shape the future of the global economy.
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