02. Battery Chemistries

GUIDE: Batteries in a portable world. 2. Battery Chemistries

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2. Battery Chemistries

Battery novices often argue that advanced battery systems are now available that offer very high energy densities, deliver 1000 charge/discharge cycles and are paper thin. These attributes are indeed achievable — unfortunately not in the same battery pack. A given battery may be designed for small size and long runtime, but this pack would have a limited cycle life. Another battery may be built for durability, but it would be big and bulky. A third pack may have high energy density and long durability, but would be too expensive for the commercial consumer.

Battery manufacturers are well aware of customer needs and have responded by offering battery packs that best suit the specific application. The mobile phone industry is an example of this clever adaptation. For this market, the emphasis is placed on small size and high energy density. Longevity comes in second.

The mention of NiMH on a battery pack does not automatically guarantee high energy density. A prismatic NiMH battery for a mobile phone, for example, is made for slim geometry and may only have an energy density of 60Wh/kg. The cycle count for this battery would be limited to around 300. In comparison, a cylindrical NiMH offers energy densities of 80Wh/kg and higher. Still, the cycle count of this battery will be moderate to low. High durability NiMH batteries, which are intended for industrial use and the electric vehicle enduring 1000 discharges to 80 percent depth-of discharge, are packaged in large cylindrical cells. The energy density on these cells is a modest 70Wh/kg.

Similarly, Li-ion batteries for defense applications are being produced that far exceed the energy density of the commercial equivalent. Unfortunately, these super-high capacity Li-ion batteries are deemed unsafe in the hands of the public. Neither would the general public be able to afford to buy them.

When energy densities and cycle life are mentioned, this book refers to a middle-of-the-road commercial battery that offers a reasonable compromise in size, energy density, cycle life and price. The book excludes miracle batteries that only live in controlled environments.

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