The popularity of electric and hybrid automobiles has stimulated a flurry of research into all types of batteries, such as IBM's Battery 500 Project, which aims to reinvent the lithium-ion battery to use air like a gasoline engine.
Despite the wide array of research projects underway--from ultra capacitors to spinning flywheels--the main effect of the hybrid automobile so far has been to boost the popularity of the conventional lithium-ion battery. And because traditional lithium-ion batteries usable lifetime in an automobile is sharply reduced when rapidly charged, a new market for used lithium-ion batteries is emerging, prompting research into reusing them in home energy-storage units.
ABB Ltd. makes fast charge stations that take less than 10 minutes to provide a 62 mile recharge and is partnering with GM to turn used car batteries into home-storage stations.
Lithium-ion batteries have long been popular for mobile devices, from camcorders to smartphones, but their use in automobiles is predicted to boost the market size 10-fold by 2020. Consequently generous tax incentives in many countries have prompted a vast expansion of manufacturing capabilities for lithium-ion batteries to meet this growing demand.
Unfortunately, a lithium-ion battery's capacity diminishes over time, as the cells internal resistance increases with each recharge. And fast recharges exacerbate the problem, drastically reducing their usable lifetime. Lithium-ion batteries for laptops computers, for instance, have a lifetime of just a few years before their capacity is so diminished that users toss them out and buy a new one. For automobiles, the battery's lifetime has been extended with more durable construction techniques, but quick-charging stations could counter those improvements, creating a market for used batteries whose capacity is too low for automobiles. However, these batteries could be used in home energy-storage units.
The market for lithium-ion batteries in 2010 was around $4.7 billion. But Allied Business Intelligence Inc. (ABI Research) expects the market will grow to as much as $47 billion by 2020. That represents a compound annual growth rate of 25 percent. In 2011, the switchover to quick-charging plug-in hybrid electric vehicles was in full swing, prompting government subsidized high-speed recharging stations to be installed around the world.
Unfortunately, a side-effect of these quick-recharge stations will be a shortening of the lifetime of the lithium-ion battery packs used in these plug-in hybrid vehicles, prompting General Motors (GM) to partner with ABB Ltd. (Zurich, Switzerland) to research methods of re-using lithium-ion batteries from automobiles in energy-storage units that while bulky--since the capacity of each battery will be low--could nevertheless provide usable energy-storage units as a bargain price.