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  • Amir Muhaisen

Lithium Battery : Prospects

in this article, Amir illustrates lithium-ion battery chemicals, market players, and research prospects besides lithium extraction potential from dead sea brine

Generally, lithium-ion battery is composed of cathode, anode, and electrolyte. Therefore, cathode (+) is metal oxide coated on aluminum foil while anode (-) is layered medium coated on copper foil. On the other hand, electrolyte is semi-permeable medium that allows lithium-ion flow from anode (-) to chathode (+) and vice versa. Critical to mention that electrolyte is susceptible to heat damage leading to short-circuit, thus coated on micro-porous membrane called separator which allows lithium-ion flow and prevents electron flow.

Keep in mind that lithium-ion battery is an electrolytic cell in which lithium-ions and electrons flow from anode (-) to cathode (+) as reactive lithium-ions held within layered medium release electrons and move across electrolyte to combine within metal oxide structure hence less reactive lithium-ions. Furthermore, released electrons flow from anode (-) to cathode (+) or in other words from copper foil to aluminum foil which function as current collectors.

In addition, lithium-ion battery is rechargeable which means it has reverse path for lithium-ion and electrons flow as illustrated through animation below. Notice that upon discharge as load connected, lithium ions flow from layered medium (left) to metal oxide (right). On the contrary, upon recharge as power connected, lithium ions flow from metal oxide (right) to layered medium (left). While electrons flow from anode (-) to cathode (+) upon discharge and in reverse upon recharge.

Commercially, metal oxides used in cathode (+) are nickel cobalt aluminum oxide, nickel manganese cobalt oxide, manganese oxide, iron phosphate, and cobalt oxide. In contrast, layered mediums used in anode (-) are usually graphite, lithium titanium, and infrequently silicone as such medium is still under-development.

Non-aqueous electrolytes are mostly used such lithium hexafluorophosphate to maintain concentration gradient besides additives such as vinylene carbonate, ethylene carbonate, and diethyl carbonate which react with layered medium to form solid-electrolyte interface hence prevents electron flow and prevents short-circuits.

Market Players

Obviously, lithium-ion battery market is dominated by china-based company Amperex Technology Limited (ATL) rebranded as Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL) with 33% market share, its headquarters in China, and further locations in Germany, France, Canada, USA and Japan. Not to mention korea-based LG Chem with (22%) and Panasonic with (15%) market shares.

Persistent demand for lithium hexa-fluorophosphate electrolyte has been considered critical to secure lithium-ion battery supply for downstream electric vehicles as tight supply and concerns of container shortage have exerted an impact on upstream lithium carbonate market trend which is clearly observed upon monitoring chinese domestic market.

According to Chemiprobe, lithium carbonate prices have surged in china since march, thus affected international market trend yet expected to increase further upon increasing demand from downstream electric vehicles.

Research Prospects

Generally, lithium-ion battery market is research-based as research is essential for business development. Therefore, current research approach is mainly focused on concepts listed below :

Silicone-Based Layered Medium : through considering hypothetical case of silicone-based layered medium instead of carbon-based graphite, lithium-ion batteries will have much higher energy density

Sodium-Ion Alternative Battery : regarding lithium carbonate market trend and dominant chinese market players which has been considered main threat to supply chain security in europe and united states. that's why sodium-ion batteries to be commercialized as production expenses and cheaper sodium salts compensate for energy storage compared to equivalent lithium-ion batteries

Lithium Carbonate : Production

Here you will find brief description, industrial synthetic route, and simplified flow diagram to further illustrate the production process for lithium carbonate.

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Lithium Extraction

While lithium carbonate prices are taking an upward trend, unconventional lithium extraction techniques have shown signs of economic feasibility in long term as lithium extraction from dead sea brine have become center of attention for researchers and few market players who still maintain “watch and wait” attitude as international lithium carbonate demand is expected to exceed supply within years.

In reality, lithium cocentration within dead sea brine is approx. 18 ppm with estimated capacity of 2.7 million metric tonne. Consequently, lithium extraction from dead sea brine is based on end-brines recovery, which means that lithium is concentrated to approx. 40 ppm within end-brines after evaporation and crystalization for chlorides recovery. On a lab scale, lithium extraction from end brines is carried using aluminum chloride with hydroxides to raise pH as aluminum chloride captures lithium ions while hydroxides enhance precipitation of lithium oxide attached to alumina. According to Chemiprobe, industrial scale-up for such technique will produce approx. 4000 metric tonne per year of precipitated lithium oxide from dead sea end-brines.

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