Editorial February 2022 EVs are the next revolution and the future

Rajiv Parikh

14 Feb 2022


Wondering why we have a picture of Tesla on the cover page? Well that’s because we believe Electric cars are the future of the automobile world! It’s a revolution and like always the chemical industry is going to lead it because electric cars works on batteries and batteries are build using chemicals. Back in the days, we had the radio revolution, the television revolution, the computer and internet revolution and this time it’s the electric cars that has taken the entire world by storm and leading this is none other than the technology giant Tesla. I don’t say it’s the automobile giant, I say it’s the technology giant in the automobile world.

The global sales have more than doubled in 2021. Prices of battery materials like lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt surged and supply chains for these raw materials, most of which are sourced from other countries, became bottlenecked due to the pandemic. This also focused attention on the primary providers of the raw materials: countries like Congo and China; and raised questions about the human and environmental impact of extracting them from the earth. Well before the EV surge and battery material shortage, developing a commercially viable sulfur battery has been the battery industry’s sustainable, high-performing white whale. This is because of sulfur’s natural abundance and chemical structure that would allow it to store more energy. A recent breakthrough by researchers in Drexel’s College of Engineering, published in the journal Communications Chemistry, provides a way to sidestep the obstacles that have subdued Li-S batteries in the past, finally pulling the sought-after technology within commercial reach. Their discovery is a new way of producing and stabilizing a rare form of sulfur that functions in carbonate electrolyte — the energy-transport liquid used in commercial Li-ion batteries. This development would not only make sulfur batteries commercially viable, but they would have three times the capacity of Li-ion batteries and last more than 4,000 recharges – the equivalent of 10 years of use, which is also a substantial improvement.
 
“Sulfur has been highly desirable for use in batteries for a number of years because it is earth-abundant and can be collected in a way that is safe and environmentally friendly, and as we have now demonstrated, it also has the potential to improve the performance of batteries in electric vehicles and mobile devices in a commercially viable way,” said Drexel’s Vibha Kalra, PhD, George B. Francis Chair professor in the College’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who led the research.

Lotte Chemical plans to spend $500 million to expand output of battery materials and other chemicals at its complex in Daesan, South Korea. The company will build plants to make ethylene carbonate and dimethyl carbonate, solvents used as electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries. Lotte is also building a carbon-capture-and-liquefaction facility. The firm will use the 200,000 metric tons per year of captured CO2 to make the electrolytes. The company will also expand capacity for ethylene oxide adduct (EOA)—used as a water-reducing agent in concrete—by a third. It’s also boosting capacity for high-purity ethylene oxide, a raw material for EOA. Let us discuss the basic chemicals involved in the making of a battery:
 
  • The Battery Casing: The basic idea behind sealing the battery with battery casing is to keep safe the battery body which is the basic source of converting chemical energy into electrical energy. This casing is produced in layers created from different raw materials and can incorporate one or two, for instance, polyethylene terephthalate layers, a polypropylene layer and a polymer layer, or layers of carbonized plastic.
  • The Battery Chemistry: In order to do its basic function of generating current to power the various devices, the battery must contain various types of chemical base, which vary according to the battery type:
    • Nickel-cadmium batteries utilizing Nickel and cadmium for long life, extended temperature range and high discharge rate.
    • Zinc-carbon battery: Zinc carbon battery contains manganese dioxide as cathode, zinc as anode and zinc chloride or ammonium chloride as electrolyte.
    • Lead-acid batteries: Lead acid batteries carry: lead dioxide and metallic lead as anode and sulfuric acid (electrolyte)
    • Lithium-ion batteries: This type of battery can make use of variety of substances, however the best combination goes with carbon as anode and lithium cobalt oxide as cathode.
    • Reusable Alkaline batteries: The anode is a zinc powder, while cathode is made out of a manganese dioxide mixture. The battery gets its name from the potassium hydroxide electrolyte, which is a soluble substance.
  • The Battery’s Electrolyte: Electrolyte is the medium that allows electron flow between the two electrodes (anode and cathode). Electrolyte is a conductive chemical made up of salt, base or acid dissolved in a solvent forming a solution that becomes the conductor of electricity. The chemicals which are electrolytes include: Sodium chloride, chloric acid, nitric acid, potassium nitrate, hydrochloric acid, potassium nitrate, sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide and sodium acetate.

 

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