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Lithium-ion batteries

In this article, Francesca Soavi (University of Bologna), describes the basic processes that allow energy storage in lithium-ion batteries.
Decorative image: Two lithium ion batteries 3.7 V 2000 mAH

Energy availability, greater exploitation of intermittent renewable resources, clean cities and electric cars have a common denominator: they are all areas where the greatest progress has been achieved thanks to the advances made in more than 40 years of research in the field of high specific energy batteries, particularly LIBs.

More than four decades of research have led to a gradual industrial revolution, something that took a long time to achieve and was initiated by three researchers, namely, John Goodeniugh, Michael Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino, the pioneers of research on LIBs, who won the Nobel Prize in 2019.

In the 1970s, the discovery and development of intercalated Li-ion compounds paved the way for the development of rechargeable Lithium batteries. Such compounds are inorganic solids capable of reversibly intercalating/deintercalating an x number of Li+ ions per molecule of a compound. They must exhibit a high potential to operate as positive electrodes and a low potential to act as negative electrodes. The high difference in the potentials of the positive and negative electrodes enables batteries to feature a high cell voltage.

The first Li-ion intercalation compound for rechargeable batteries was TiS2, which was proposed in the mid-seventies by M.S. Whittingham. Other compounds were eventually investigated, such as the oxides based on V, Mn or Co. In 1980 J. B. Goodenough demonstrated for the first time that by the use of lithium cobaltite (LiCoO2) as the positive electrode, it is possible to obtain rechargeable LIBs with a specific energy that is four times higher than that of lead–acid batteries, the most widespread type of battery at the time.

Since the early 1980s, there has been fervent activity on the development of rechargeable batteries based on Li-ion intercalation compounds, which have allowed incredible developments in portable electronics and which are currently the key enabling technology for energy transition and sustainable mobility.

© Francesca Soavi-University of Bologna
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