Lithium-Ion or Li-ion batteries have become a mainstay in the electronics world since their introduction in 1991. Due to their rechargeable, lightweight, and reliable nature, lithium-ion batteries are chosen to meet the power requirements of numerous devices, ranging from mobile phones to military and aerospace equipment, and more. Given their ubiquity in several industries, it is important for customers to understand the basic operating principles that govern lithium-ion batteries in case they decide to implement these devices in their work. In this blog, we will discuss all the nuances relating to lithium-ion batteries, including their chemical and physical characteristics, uses, and safety profiles.
Batteries may be classified as having a primary or secondary cell mechanism. The primary cell type comprises a non-reversible set of reactions that render the battery unusable after all energy reserves have been discharged. Secondary cell batteries, which include lithium-ions, implement a set of reversible redox reactions that allow the unit to be recharged many times over a long operational lifespan. To understand the basic mechanics of secondary-cell technology, two scenarios can be thought of. In the first, electrons and ions flow from the anode side of the battery to the cathode, eventually discharging energy to the associated circuit. As this occurs, the potential energy in the cell moves from the negative anode to the positive cathode. For lithium-ion and other rechargeable batteries, the ions and electrons can move in the opposite direction when exposed to an external source of energy, further recharging the cell.
When assessing the traits of any battery, it is important to include the material of the cathode and anode, as these contribute to the unit's performance and environmental impact. For lithium-ion batteries, a cobalt-oxide structure is chosen as the cathode. These molecules form in a tetrahedral-like arrangement when stacked together, allowing arrays of lithium ions to intercalate between rows. This structure permits the maximum number of ions to fit within the lattice. Moreover, the anode material in lithium-ion batteries and most other secondary cells is almost uniformly graphite, providing excellent product stability, safety, and performance while remaining low in cost.
Lithium-ion batteries have a characteristically long half-life, but certain environmental and operational factors can affect this time. For example, keeping the battery in a charging state for too long without use may contribute to a decreased battery life over time due to the expansion of the solid electrolyte interface, ultimately trapping the lithium ions. Another hazardous operating environment includes extreme temperatures, where lithium ions can react with carbonate ions to form insoluble lithium carbonate (Li2CO3). The production of lithium carbonate tracks directly with the loss of cyclable lithium ions.
Of the few concerns with lithium-ion technologies, safety is typically the greatest. The electrolyte or medium through which the lithium ions travel is an organic material that is highly flammable. When exposed to high temperatures, short circuits, or physical damage, this reactive electrolyte can quickly respond by causing a dramatic fire or explosion. Although this concern has been addressed by most manufacturers, it is still important to only use lithium-ion batteries as instructed.
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