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The future is to the supercapacitors

Lead and lithium batteries are the standard. But lead and Li-ion have their limitations and in the past, have proven to have safety risks as well. For this reason, science and industry are diligently looking for alternatives. However, the battery experts at Elfa tone down the optimism about this, for the development time of new batteries is huge. It has taken Lithium-ion a full fifteen years to mature. But at the moment, Elfa does see interesting developments, such as graphene supercapacitors. This is a patent from 1986, so there, too, things go very slow. It is therefore logical that for the time being, the industry aims at improving lead batteries and making the Lithium-ion battery cheaper. We will have to be patent for the successors. But this patience will be rewarded: the supercapacitor will last a million charging cycles effortlessly.


The branch dates from the times of Nickel-Cadmium; fine batteries in themselves, but they also have their limitations. They had a self-discharge of up to 10% per month. If they were completely drained, they were also damaged. Besides, these batteries have the so-called memory effect: if you charged them only half often enough, they thought they were half an accumulator. Lithium-ion does not have those downsides. Self-discharge is minimal and these batteries do not have a memory effect. Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, there is sufficient lithium for the time being. China, Bolivia and Australia still have huge supplies in their mines. Besides there are options to gain lithium from sea salt. There is a problem in the production capacity, however. Elfa notices that delivery times of certain batteries start to increase.


Recently, the University of Twente also opened an battery campus. The enormous activity in the development of batteries is not fuelled by the desire of, for instance, power tool manufacturers. They are quite comfortable with the current battery technology, with the professional charging one battery while the other is in use. They must further extend the action radius of electric cars to make them a true alternative for petrol engines. Elfa thinks that Lithium Air is the first alternative. This battery uses the oxidation of lithium on the anode and the reduction of oxygen on the cathode to create an electric current. The greatest benefit of this is that energy density is approx.. 30% higher than with Lithium-ion. This technology was discovered in the 1970s and is now given a second chance.

Incidentally, Elfa expects that the graphene supercapacitors or other so-called ‘solid state’ batteries, rather than Lithium Air, will eventually make the real next breakthrough. Solid state batteries may be considered large capacitors. They are batteries without electrolyte. The trick is there not to release all energy it contains in one blow. A gradual discharge is controlled better and better and that means a real breakthrough. Not only does energy density improve by leaps, but so does the lifespan of the accumulator. Lead lasted two years and Nickel Cadmium not much longer. The Lithium-ion battery of today often lasts six to ten years and this is gradually rising to twelve. But a solid state battery can be charged and discharged a million times. It lasts longer than we ourselves do. Again, we have to be patient. For the time being Lithium-ion is the standard for many uses.



Fortunately, steps forward can still be made with Lithium-ion. Scientists have managed to find out how Li-ion batteries can charge faster. Research was done on Li-ion batteries with neutrons from the Delft research reactor of the Reactor Institute Delft. It turns out efficiency can be boosted because researchers of the institute could get a clear picture of the Lithium ions with the use neutrons. This allowed them to see what factors play a role in the charging and discharging of the batteries and how this process can be made faster and more efficient.


Visualising Lithium ions is not really possible with conventional technologies, which means that within Elfa there is relatively little knowledge of the charging and discharging factors of Li-ion batteries. The researchers in Delft have charted the ion movements in an battery with Neutron Depth Profiling. Eventually, three directions of solutions were found to make batteries rechargeable more quickly. This will undoubtedly be picked up by the industry and of course, Elfa is following these developments closely.

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