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From Lithium to Life: The Journey of a Battery

Lithium is a crucial element in battery technology and is the number one driving force behind the explosive growth in mobile technology over the last two decades. We will delve into the key advantages of lithium-ion later in this article, but for now, it is interesting to reflect on why it this particular raw compound is so important to the performance of a battery.

Lithium-Ion Battery Advantages

Lithium is used as an electrolyte that transports positively charged lithium ions through a separator between the anode and cathode. In a word, it is this movement that creates the energy that is discharged as an electrical current that powers the device or gadget.

The reason why lithium is so in demand is that it is highly reactive, so it seamlessly conducts energy through a battery. It is also extremely light, which makes it ideal for use in smaller portable devices such as smartphones and wearable technology, including health monitors. Additionally, lithium is the element that makes the battery rechargeable - an important factor for future sustainability and optimising the use of this natural resource.

Lithium is produced from granite quarry rock in two key ways - hard rock mining (drilling and blasting rocks that contain lithium) and brine mining (pumping up water that has high concentrations of lithium carbonate from underground reservoirs or dried lake beds). Currently, about 56 per cent of lithium mining is used in battery manufacturing, but as populations are encouraged to move away from fossil fuels and the demand for electric vehicles in particular increases, the overall extraction rates will need to significantly increase to meet demand. Some reports state that by 2025, the global production of lithium will increase to more than 1.5 million metric tons - three times greater than what it originally was in 2020.

The Advantages of Lithium-Ion Battery Use

 Lithium-ion was the first generation of lithium batteries and was responsible for the increased use of personal mobile devices and gadgets such as the first mobile phones mp3 players. The second-generation lithium polymer batteries were more versatile in nature and helped spearhead the smartphone revolution. While the li-on vs. lipo battery debate fills the pages of hundreds (if not thousands) of website blogs across the internet, the truth is that both have their advantages and disadvantages.

One of the key advantages of lithium-ion is the cost of manufacturing. Both lithium ion and polymer batteries offer high energy density; the second-generation polymer batteries are significantly more expensive to produce in the factory, which adds considerable cost to the product it is powering. Lithium-ion batteries are also faster charging. However, lithium polymer batteries are more flexible in design, have a lower chance of leakage, and are less combustible.

In short, the decision for a manufacturer in choosing between li-ion vs li-polymer batteries is a commercial one and will be driven by the brand values of the product they are manufacturing and the needs of their target market. Even more important is the ethics behind the choice of battery. While the promotion of electric vehicles is a significant step away from a reliance on fossil fuels, therefore contributing towards a move towards net carbon zero, there is still concern about the mining and extraction of lithium and cobalt and whether the supply chain is robust enough to cope with the increasing demand in the years and decades to come.

Consequently, the life cycle of lithium needs to be planned far beyond the shorter-term life cycle of the product it is initially designed to power.

Sustainability and Recyclability - Extending the Life Cycle of Lithium

While the rechargeability of lithium batteries is far superior to that of lead acid batteries, what is important is their ability to also be recycled. In the UK, this is regulated by the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009, which requires the producers of batteries to fund the collection and recycling of used batteries.

This has obvious benefits both economically and environmentally. The regulated deconstruction of the batteries will not only allow components to be reused but also help reduce the amount of hazardous waste entering landfill sites.

In the meantime, the battery manufacturing industry is working hard to incorporate a more ethical approach to the supply chain. Both lithium extraction and cobalt mining are steeped in controversy, both in terms of environmentally damaging processes and encouraging unhealthy and illegal working practices. This evidently negates the progress made in terms of working towards carbon zero.

If you are looking for a sustainable and ethical lithium battery solution, YOK Energy is always looking at ways to improve its production and operations to the benefit of the industry as a whole. Contact the company now to discuss this in more detail.



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