By Austin Anderson, Lewei He, Kiri Nicholson, and Brooke Noeska
Adoption of electric cars has been on the rise for the past decade due to the substantial advances that have been made by improvement of technology. The greatest challenges regarding electric cars are their batteries. Finding a balance between battery life, weight, rechargeability, and cost has proven to be a significant issue.
This video focuses on lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. First, we provide a quick survey of electric vehicle designs. We then discuss chemistry, physics, and material science behind basic design of lithium-ion batteries. Next, we look at challenges that electric vehicles and the batteries face, which is the balance between adequate energy storage and weight of the battery.
How do we solve these challenges? The answer to this question lies within the material science paradigm triangle, which looks at property, processing, and structure. One key aspect in performance of the battery is the use of silicon versus graphite anodes, in which lithium ions are absorbed. Considering properties, graphite is more stable while silicon can absorb more ions, although they sometimes absorb too much and fail due to the mechanical stress. Considering processing, silicon films as thin as 20nm can absorb nearly the maximum amount of ions while limiting the amount of load the ions create. Finally, in a structural view, research has shown that small amount of tin in silicon anodes can greatly enhance capacity. Similarly, silicon-graphene anodes are another option with improvements in capacity and stability. In this perspective, the way to improve performance is clear: thinner silicon sheets with small amount of tin.
Lithium ion batteries hold a lot of advantages over other types of power sources. Compared to gasoline, vehicles produce less emission by using power that may be generated by renewable and nuclear energy. Compared to other batteries, lithium-ion provides high energy density by weight, relatively low amount of toxic and hazardous elements, and a good cycle durability.
The future of electric vehicles is immense, and with advancements in material science, lithium-ion batteries will likely continue to provide the energy that not only drives cars, but also drives the growth of the market of electric vehicles.
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