Better batteries (IT Toolbox Blogs)

This post doesn’t have a whole lot to do with data security, which is my usual topic, but it caught my attention because of its implication for cheaper and safer electronic equipment such as tablets and smartphones.


Lithium-ion batteries are in use everywhere today, from airliners to electric vehicles to smartphones, but they have a couple of problems. One problem is cost; lithium is not very plentiful, and consequently it’s rather expensive. To make matters worse, much of it is mined in China, which means that any time the Chinese feel like it they can put up the price or limit supplies or both.


The other problem is safety; lithium batteries have been known to burst into flames. The entire Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded a few years ago when fires occurred in the lithium-ion battery units in several aircraft. Then there was the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which cost Samsung about $5 billion by the time all the flames had been put out.


A new type of battery using zinc appears to be on the horizon. Replacing lithium with zinc will certainly deal with the scarcity problem. Zinc is the fourth-most mined material on the planet; over 14 million tons of it are mined each year, much of it in North America. When the International Zinc Association was asked about how much zinc would needed if these new batteries were to be used in vehicles, they laughed and said, `we spill more zinc than you need`.


Zinc-based batteries apparently don`t pose the same fire risk as lithium-ion batteries, and can in principle match or surpass them in terms of specific energy (energy per unit mass), as well as energy density (energy per unit volume). So why haven`t they been used before?


Zinc-based batteries are not rechargeable in practice because of the tendency of zinc to grow whiskers, or dendrites to give them their proper names, which result in internal short circuits that cause the battery to die after a few charge/discharge cycles. However, EnZinc of San Anselmo, California, claims to have developed a technology for making zinc anodes that will get round this problem. They are aiming to get to market by late 2019 (OK, realistically, make that 2020) with a battery that has the same performance as lithium-ion but is a lot less expensive and much safer.


I’ve said in the past that I would buy an electric car if it cost no more than a similar gasoline-powered vehicle, had a range of 300 miles and could be recharged in no more than half an hour. I may buy one yet.


P.S. As a wordsmith, I like to use words correctly. Strictly speaking, an individual battery isn’t a battery, it’s a cell, or more specifically a voltaic cell. The word battery is simply a collective noun, which explains why we speak of an artillery battery, meaning a collection of guns. Your car battery is truly a battery, because it really is a collection of individual cells (six 2-volt cells connected in series to give a 12-volt output), but an AA appliance battery, for example, is just a single cell, so it isn’t a battery at all. Now you know!


Source: SANS ISC SecNewsFeed @ May 3, 2017 at 02:12PM