An important battery research points out the many problems facing the lithium-battery and battery-powered auto industries.

The future, or forever a niche?

Are batteries really the future of the auto industry?

For the last couple of decades materials scientist Dr. Jean-Marie Tarascon of the Laboratoire réactivité et chimie des solides (LRCS) at Université de Picardie Jules Verne, and previously Bell Labs and Bellcore, has been working on energy storage solutions, most notably the plastic Li-ion battery (PLiON).

Recently Dr. Tarascon provided his take on the future of the battery industry and, in a nutshell, almost anything is still possible, but the potential of plug-in vehicles taking over the world any time soon is still  many significant breakthroughs from reality.

Tarascon sums it up best, “…we should be aware that a colossal task is awaiting us if we really want to compete with gasoline, as an increase by a factor of 15 is needed for the energy delivered by a battery (180 Wh kg-1) to match the one of a litre of gasoline (3000 Wh l-1; taking into account corrections from Carnot’s principle). Knowing that the energy density of batteries has only increased by a factor of five over the last two centuries, our chances to have a 10-fold increase over the next few years are very slim, with the exception of unexpected research breakthroughs.

Nonetheless, Tarascon finds room for optimism, even though he points out that current lithium technologies are completely dependent upon “out-of-the-box” solutions to overcome well understood limitations. Even then, “complete out-of-the box solutions to electrochemically store electricity” could make all lithium technologies irrelevant.

Inevitably, Tarascon concludes that the battery industry must continue to pursue paradigm shifting approaches to energy storage based upon the collective efforts of multiple disciplines.

Perhaps, as Confuscious would say, ‘the wise battery researcher is the researcher whom realizes he/she knows nothing’. Thus, stay out-of-the-box as much as possible.