Advantages and disadvantages of lithium batteries

When it comes to lithium batteries, very often, there is the confusion on how they should be used and even more often, people don’t know, how they should recharge them, compared to the old obsolete nickel batteries.

The “maintenance”

The most important thing to remember, when using devices that work with lithium batteries, is that these power generators must be “initialized”. The term “initialization” means that you need to allow a full battery charge before using the device. A full charge usually takes between five and seven hours. Why should you proceed with the initialization, when purchasing a new device? The reason is very simple and is as follow: unlike the old nickel batteries, lithium ion batteries do not have what was called the memory effect.
This effect led to imbalances between lower and upper limits of charge, even when batteries were charged or uncharged following the instructions. Instead, lithium batteries should never be discharged completely. A completely discharged battery must be recharged as soon as possible or it could be damaged or even become unusable. After the initialization process, because of the lack of the memory effect, lithium batteries can also be recharged when they are not completely exhausted, as well as they can be unplugged even if they haven’t recharged completely.
However, this doesn’t mean that lithium batteries can always be used if partially recharged. Every few cycles of partial recharges, depending on the battery type, is advisable to fully recharge the battery when is completely discharged, to allow a better performance. This procedure will allow a longer battery life.

Pros and Cons

Recharging lithium batteries at any time, without having to wait to be completely discharged, is a big plus, but this doesn’t represent the only advantage. In fact, compared to other types of batteries, lithium ion batteries also have a higher efficiency and, if used correctly, can have a longer life.
Even though their market price is higher, compared to other types of batteries, this can be easily amortized thanks to a longer life and energy savings results, making the purchase of a lithium battery a better investment for money. Moreover, unlike the old nickel or even lead batteries, lithium batteries are not toxic and are less polluting.

Main types of lithium batteries

But what do we mean with “lithium batteries”? Lithium batteries can be of different types and the most well-known include lithium polymer, lithium iron phosphate, lithium-cobalt, lithium-manganese oxide and lithium-titanium oxide batteries. All these batteries share the same electrolyte, that is to say a lithium salt. What makes them different is the material used for the cathode.
By analyzing different types of cathodes, that characterize lithium batteries, we can notice that they all present different features that will make the cathode more or less useful depending on specific contexts.

For instance, batteries in lithium-iron-phosphate are characterized by a high thermal stability, which higher compared to any type of battery, including lithium and non-lithium batteries. They can be recharged from two to three thousand cycles, while maintaining their characteristics unchanged. For this reason, they are widely used for storage systems and for the latest generation of photovoltaic panels.

The most common type of lithium batteries, is the lithium-cobalt type. This battery is usually used for the most common mobile devices, from laptops to tablets and smartphones. Despite being very versatile, it heats up pretty quickly.

Lithium-manganese oxide batteries however, are used for tools that can handle high temperatures, because they are able to maintain good performance even under higher temperatures than the environment temperature. However, even though on the one hand they are pretty cheap, on the other hand they have, on average, a lower energy performance compared to lithium-cobalt batteries.

Lithium-titanium oxide batteries are particularly interesting because compared to the others, they do not feature cathode elements, but anode elements. As a matter of fact, all the previous battery models present the cathode in the graphite while the anode is present in different elements, as mentioned above. In this case, however, the anode is characterized by the presence of a particular element that replaces the graphite, that is to say the titanium oxide. This choice avoids any risk of combustion of the graphite anode.

Lithium polymer batteries have a completely different structure. In normal batteries the lithium salt electrolyte is usually dissolved in a kind of organic solvent. However, in this particular type of battery, the solvent is part of a solid polymer. This choice, once again, has been made to get a better performance but also to make the battery safer. Solid polymers, in fact, unlike liquid organic compounds, are not flammable and, above all, do not evaporate with excessive heat.

The search for new technologies

The new ongoing technological researches, a part from improving the battery performance and trying to diminish lithium batteries faults, are also experimenting lithium cells-sulfur and lithium-air batteries, which should be performing better than all those models that we have been using so far.

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