“The that he gave his company, Tesla 100 days

“The world’s largest lithium ion battery has begun dispensing
power into an electricity grid in South Australia”

The headline above has been spreading around the world, as
Tesla accomplished something people deemed impossible. Tesla is run by Elon
Musk, who is the CEO of the company. Tesla is a company that aspires for
cleaner energy sources, and have demonstrated that by producing electric cars,
power packs for houses and much more.

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The story started when South-Australia had a widespread
blackout in 2016, that occurred due to storm damage affecting electricity
transmission infrastructure. The cascading failure of the electricity
transmission network resulted in almost the entire state losing its electricity
supply. Elon Musk took matter into his hands and challenged himself, saying
that he gave his company, Tesla 100 days to build the world’s largest battery
to provide South-Australian homes with electricity, and if they did not meet
the deadline, the state would not have to pay as the company would. They
managed to build it in less than a 100 days and cost them $50 million. They aim
to produce half of the state’s renewable electricity by the year of 2025. With
this giant battery, they are currently giving electricity to 30,000 houses per
hour and is located near a wind farm with an electricity generation capacity of
315MW of electrical power. Tesla said the expertise they
developed whilst building lithium-ion batteries for its cars helped it develop
the bigger power packs for the energy storage systems. The batteries used in
energy storage facilities that connect to the grid are not the same as those
seen in Tesla cars but have some common design elements.

It is clear to see that battery technology is becoming the
norm as it is a field with rapid improvements, which has potential to compete
with other fuel industries which are currently non-renewable and contribute to
global warming.

Till this day, Tesla holds the record of building the
largest Lithium-ion battery, whereas Panasonic holds the record of building the
smallest Lithium-ion battery. It has a diameter of 2.5mm and weighs only 0.6g.
Because of the size of the battery, the product is suitable for wearable
devices such as smartwatches, as they require less power compared to other
power-hungry devices. Some may think that due to the size, it might not be
best, but in fact it is highly reliable, recharges quickly and it would be
optimal for near field communication(NFC).

“Technology that took man
to the Moon could soon take shoppers regularly to the mall”

This second headline, was said from a representative of
California Fuel Cell Partnership, where they discussed what kind of technology
was used to get Neil Armstrong to space. The technology behind Apollo was fuel
cells. They have been known for more than 150 years before the mission to the
Moon, but it was used for the spacecraft in 1969, to make sure it functions
effectively. Apollo’s electrical power source was a set of three fuel cells. The
fuel cells used oxygen and hydrogen, stored as liquids at extremely cold
temperatures, that when combined, chemically
yielded electric power and, as a by-product, water for drinking. The cells each
had a hydrogen and an oxygen compartment and electrodes that combine to produce
27 to 31 volts. Normal
power output for each power plant is 563 to 1420 watts, with a maximum of 2300
watts. The fuel-cell power system was efficient, clean, and pollution-free.


After the successful trip to the moon, industries have been trying
to use the same technology in cars, due to it being efficient and waste-free,
which would enable industries to have a sustainable future. The car would work
on the following principles; it drives with
electricity but unlike a battery, an electric car would have to be plugged in
to charger, whereas the fuel cell vehicle will make electricity on-board from
the hydrogen stored in a tank. Like a battery, a fuel cell uses a chemical
process to generate electricity. Inside the fuel cell, a catalyst strips
hydrogen into positively charged hydrogen ions and electrons. The positive ions
pass across a special membrane and react with oxygen from the air to form
water. The electrons must go around and flow through a circuit to generate
electricity. Even though the technology is there, there are still
questions and drawbacks for world-wide commercial use, so a few years will go
by before this model is popularised.

An example of Lithium-ion battery use and one where fuel
cells were used have been stated above. The state of the battery and fuel cell
technologies is complicated. At the moment, there are still limitation of
batteries, that is why Industries are trying to find and research alternative
power sources, mainly fuel cell technology, as it is a clean, renewable source.


Lithium-ion is used in phones, battery packs, cars and now
used to power South-Australia due to their advantages such as their high energy
density, the low rate of self-discharge, low maintenance and many more. They
are constantly researching and developing to make these batteries better, and
hope to have a future where no waste is produced and can rely on electricity to
power everything someday. As previously established, fuel cell is the goal,
however for smaller appliances and devices that is not currently possible, which
is why some companies are either trying to improve with Lithium-ion or find an
alternative source. Big technology and car companies are all too
aware of the limitations of lithium-ion batteries. While chips and operating
systems are becoming more efficient to save power we’re still only looking at a
day or two of use on a smartphone before having to recharge. Thankfully,
universities and firms are getting involved.

A breakthrough in battery technology comes from Samsung Advanced
Institute of Technology (SAIT).
While everyone loves a thin smartphone,
the compromise in battery life that this obsession requires means that most of
the people find their charge simply not lasting long
enough. Samsung has developed a ‘graphene ball’ battery material that not only
allows for a 45% increase in power density compared to traditional lithium-ion
batteries, but also charging speeds up to five times faster. Both claims could
have profound benefits for mobile devices and electric vehicles. For example,
right now it takes two hours to charge the iPhone 8 with Apple’s 12W charger,
but with this battery it would take 24 minutes. In the electric automotive
industry, Tesla’s superchargers take 75 minutes to fully charge their Model S,
but with Samsung’s breakthrough it would take 15 minutes. The
decreased recharge time and high energy density of the battery would have normally
resulted in a higher temperature when recharging, however, Samsung’s new
battery has a very stable temperature of 60oC. This battery could
completely change the way electrical devices function. Moreover, this
technology doesn’t replace the lithium-ion, but the protective anode layer,
which means current batteries can be modified with this technology.

Researchers say that lithium-ion battery technology is near its full potential. Some also say that it is hone to perfection, but looking at
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7s, which caught on fire due to the flammable liquid electrolytes, which
caused a global recall. Firms are trying to replace the liquid electrolytes
with solid electrolytes, which would result in more
compact, higher energy devices. They’re
also non-flammable and, in theory, could last longer and charge faster. Smartphones and other devices are becoming more power hungry
as days go by, so having a technology implanted like this, is beneficial for all. A developer of solid-state
batteries for Internet of Things devices,
say that they could increase ‘cycle life’ from two years to 10 years. 

It might sound like something from a sci-fi
movie, but urine powered batteries are a reality, and Bill Gates is funding
them. It is efficient enough to charge smartphone batteries. Using a Microbial
Fuel Cell, micro-organisms take the urine, break
it down and output electricity. On a scale large enough to charge a smartphone
there are several cells into which the urine is passed via tubes. The unit creates
electricity and expels a broken-down version of the waste making it safer to
dispose of. This technology could be implemented on a large scale for both
treating waste and powering the grid in the future. The next step for the
researchers is to figure out how to increase the energy output of the
urine-based MFCs. They have already discovered that by extending the electrodes
in the cell from 4 to 8 mm, power output increased
tenfold, and that stacking the batteries could produce even greater electrical
output. This is a huge step in the direction of a truly carbon neutral
future where nothing goes to waste.

Fuel cells

With the changing landscape of the
automotive industry, most players are accelerating their plans to launch
electric vehicles as regulators look to fight increasing pollution with
zero-emission vehicles. The growing market of electrical vehicles has
resulted in fuel cell technology research being given a bigger budget so that
they can build even better vehicles with greater efficiency and zero-emission. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are a green
alternative to internal combustion engines because they produce power through
electrochemical reactions, leaving no pollution behind and are far more efficient. 

Toyota Motors is focusing
on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with its Mirai brand. While the company
has sold only 4,000 Mirai fuel cell vehicles since 2014, it has an ambitious
target of selling 30,000 of these vehicles by 2020. These vehicles are
expensive and currently priced at $52,500. A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle can go
312 miles, which is higher than the 300-mile range of Tesla’s Model S and much higher
than other electric vehicles per fuelling, and does not need heavy batteries
for this range. The trump card is range. Toyota claims a
312-mile driving range for the Mirai and there is scope to add to that by
increasing the pressure at which hydrogen is stored in the vehicle’s tanks.

The disadvantage is that hydrogen cars need a prescribed space around them
during fuelling, and parts must use particular grades of steel. Supervisors
must have experience of handling hydrogen and other high-pressure gases.
Records must be kept of who handles and purchases the fuel. It is a long way
from a self-service gasoline stand. The issue with regulation highlights one of
the biggest challenges for hydrogen versus batteries. Whereas the latter can
use existing electricity wires, hydrogen needs its own infrastructure. No one
wants a fuel-cell car without a fuelling infrastructure, and no one wants to
pay for the infrastructure until there are cars to use it.

To conclude, both battery and fuel
cell technologies are advancing and someday could replace the current system,
which means a carbon-neutral future is probable, but it may take a while before
this is achieved. Although both technologies have a potential to replace the
current fuel technologies, the firms and industries are still in their
primitive research and experimentation stage, so they would have to keep
testing, to make sure it is consumer ready, reliable, and efficient to keep a
sustainable future.