History of the Lithium Ion Battery

Modern batteries are one of the single most important technological inventions in the history of humanity. It is because of batteries that we can use the many hi-tech devices that the world now relies on. Inside your computers, smartphones and light electric vehicle, you will find at the heart of its power, a lithium ion battery.

Where did these little cells come from and morph into the availability of consumer electronics? Let’s explore.

Ancient Electricity?

Though controversial, the earliest attempts of human’s trying to capture the power of electrons may have occurred 2,000 years ago. The “Baghdad Batteries”, as they’ve come to be called, are from ancient Mesopotamia. Little is known about the use of these instruments, but many scholars speculate that they could have been used for electroplating.

It consisted of a ceramic pot, copper metal tube and iron rod, and some believe that the pot could have been filled with lemon juice or vinegar as an electrolyte.

Early Modern Batteries

Alessandro Volta invented the first modern battery in 1800. The battery, called a Voltaic Pile, was made from a stack of copper, zinc, and salt water soaked cloth.

As time progressed, scientists and engineers continued making improvements. In 1859, Gaston Plante invented the lead acid battery, followed by Edison’s nickel iron version in 1901. Eventually the alkaline manganese battery came on the scene in the 1940’s, creating the little round cylinders we’ve all come to know and love. All along the way, society watched as the world transformed because of the newly emerging technology.

Lithium Ion Batteries Emerge

The batteries on the market before lithium ions had many flaws that halted further progress. Society needed a battery that was lighter weight, lasted longer and was better for the environment. Thankfully, innovative scientists never stopped pressing forward and in the 1970’s M Stanley Whittingham proposed using lightweight lithium in place of traditional metals. Whittingham’s battery was unfortunately not commercially viable, primarily because of the high cost of material. However, the race was on to find something that would work.

In 1980 John Goodenough and Koichi Mizushima created a rechargeable lithium cell with lithium cobalt oxide, making the new battery practical for commercial applications. Akira Yoshino created a prototype battery that eliminated the need for metallic lithium inside the cell, which made the lithium ion battery much safer and attractive for use in publicly available commercial goods.

Modern Uses of the Lithium Ion Battery

From the mars rover to your son’s hoverboard, lithium ion batteries have become commonplace. Every day we use and hold in our hands dozens of items that are powered by these magic little cells.

Thanks to the lithium ion battery, scientists and engineers around the world are finally fueled with the power needed to create innovative technologies like electric bicycles, skateboards and cars. Our smart phones are becoming even smarter, and the techie tools we depend on are lasting longer than ever before.

Such technological improvements will hopefully help humanity to do great things in the near and distant future by aiding in the effort to ease global warming, take men further into space, and create solutions to the problems that plague humanity.

The Future

It seems that science isn’t going to stop finding better ways to fuel our world anytime soon. Goodenough, now 93, still puts in hours in the laboratory every day on campus at the University of Texas in Austin. He’s determined to create the world’s best battery once again before he throws in the towel.

In an interview with Quartz, he stated that if we don’t find a solution soon, “we’re going to have wars on wars fighting over the last reserves of this, that or the other and we’re going to have global warming beyond anything we can bear.”

Goodenough isn’t the only one thinking ahead. Elon Musk has created what he calls the Power Wall. This sleek and sophisticated battery can store 6.4 kWh energy per unit and is designed to be configured side by side, filling the walls with enough power to make your family’s home and vehicles energetically self-sufficient.  It also uses the latest lithium ion technology in combination with solar energy to power your home and charge your new Tesla electric car.

Thanks to the lithium ion, we have come a long way, and continue to forge a future that will be brighter, more enjoyable and gentler on the environment. Only time will unveil what kind of amazing feats we will accomplish in the years to come.


1 comment

Stan Smith

Got a Lee Iococa E-bike from 20 years ago and love it, but haven’t used it much lately. Have had to replace lead acid batteries once bu jury-rigging it on to the rack. Works fine, but would prefer a lighter system of course. Genesis seems to have engineered some of these solutions.

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