Automotive Technology

How Does a Lithium Ion Battery Work? Understanding Lithium Ion Battery Components

Lithium-ion batteries are used in many applications including mobile phones, laptops, medical equipment, and electric vehicles. They are being used more and more due to their energy density, lightweight, and the ability to be recharged. 

But how does a lithium-ion battery work? 

This helpful guide will walk you through lithium-ion battery components and how they work.

A Short History

During the late 1970s Stanley Whittingham, an English Chemist, began researching the idea of a battery that could recharge on its own quickly. Eventually, the research was halted because of safety concerns. 

At the same time John B. Goodenough, a professor at the University of Texas, was running similar experiments. His work doubled the energy potential of the future battery. 

Some years later, Akira Yoshino of Meijo University in Japan found a way to make the new battery safer and more stable. 

In 2019, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to these three scientists for their work on lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are used around the world today to help us communicate, work, study, travel, and store energy from renewable sources like wind and solar. 

Lithium-Ion Battery Components

So, how do lithium-ion batteries work? A lithium-ion battery is comprised of one or more compartments that generate power. These compartments are called cells. Each cell has three main parts: a positive electrode, a negative electrode, and electrolyte chemicals in between them. 

The positive electrode connects to the lithium-ion battery’s positive terminal. It is typically made from lithium cobalt oxide or lithium phosphate. 

The negative electrode is comprised of carbon and the electrolyte changes from one battery to the next. 

How Lithium-Ion Batteries Work

Lithium-ion batteries generally all work the same at the most basic level. As the battery charges, the positive electrode releases some of its lithium ions. These ions move through the electrolyte to the negative electrode and stay there and the battery takes in energy to charge. 

When the lithium-ion battery releases charge the lithium ions move back across the electrolyte over to the positive electrode. This process creates the energy that powers the battery. 

When charging and releasing charge the electrons flow in the opposite direction around the outer circuit. They do not flow through the electrolyte but it does help insulate the barrier.

The ions and the electrolytes move in opposite directions. The ions move through the electrolyte and the electrons move around the external circuit. If one stops, so does the other and you lose power.

Unlike regular batteries, lithium-ion batteries have an electronic controller built-in to regulate their charge and discharge. The electronic controller helps prevent overheating that can cause the batteries to explode. 

Advantages of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are usually more reliable than traditional batteries. Traditional batteries can suffer from “memory effect” where they become harder to charge unless they were fully discharged first. 

Lithium-ion batteries can handle hundreds of charge and discharge cycles. They last 2 to 3 years but a lithium ion battery replacement is easy and affordable for consumers. 

These batteries also hold their charge better than a traditional battery. They only lose about 5% of their charge and a traditional battery can lose up to 20%. 

Lithium-ion batteries do not contain cadmium a heavy metal and they are considered to be better for the environment. Compared to heavy-duty lead-acid batteries a lithium-ion battery is relatively light for the amount of energy it can store. 

Disadvantages of Lithium-Ion Batteries

We are not trying to say that lithium-ion batteries are perfect. They have a few flaws as well. These batteries can be extremely sensitive to heat. Heat can cause lithium-ion batteries to degrade much faster. 

The built-in electronic controller used to prevent overheating makes the batteries more expensive to purchase than traditional batteries. Even with the electronic controller, there is still a chance that lithium-ion battery pack can fail and the battery will burst into flames. 

Lithium-Ion Battery Usage

In 1994 it cost more than $10 to manufacture the lithium-ion 18650 battery. By 2001 that price dropped down to $2 and the capacity of the battery rose.

Today costs have dropped even further making Lithium-ion batteries the universal standard in the battery for portable applications. 

After these batteries took hold in the consumer industry they also became popular choices for heavy industry and powertrains on electric cars.

In 2009, roughly 38% of all batteries were lithium-ion. This is a relatively low maintenance battery which makes it more appealing. 

Extending the Life of Your Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries do not require a lot of maintenance but there are a few things you can do to get the most life out of your batteries. Follow these tips to make your batteries last longer. 

  1. Keep the batteries at room temperature – Lithium batteries perform best at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees celsius. Do not leave them in your garage, shed, or vehicle. 
  2. Look at the Manufacturing date – Unfortunately, lithium-ion batteries begin to degrade the moment after they are created. Look at the manufacturing date on the package when you purchase a lithium-ion battery to find one that was created recently. This will give you more charges. 
  3. Charge more frequently – Lithium-ion batteries work best when charged before they are fully discharged. Charge your batteries frequently to get more life from them. 
  4. Store batteries properly – If you want to keep a lithium-ion battery around to have on hand there is a way to store it. Store the battery with only a 40% charge and in the refrigerator (not the freezer). 

Lithium-Ion Batteries Are The Future

There have been so many technological advances made with the help of lithium-ion batteries. Hopefully, this guide has shed some light on how a lithium-ion battery works and explained the main lithium-ion battery components. 

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