Lithium Ion battery

The Lithium Ion battery

Pioneer work with the lithium battery began in 1912 under G.N. Lewis but it was not until the early 1970s that the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries became commercially available. Lithium is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density per weight.

Attempts to develop rechargeable lithium batteries followed in the 1980s, but failed due to safety problems. Because of the inherent instability of lithium metal, especially during charging, research shifted to a non-metallic lithium battery using lithium ions. Although slightly lower in energy density than lithium metal, the Li‑ion is safe, provided certain precautions are met when charging and discharging. In 1991, the Sony Corporation commercialized the first Li‑ion battery. Other manufacturers followed suit. Today, the Li‑ion is the fastest growing and most promising battery chemistry.

The energy density of the Li‑ion is typically twice that of the standard NiCd. Improvements in electrode active materials have the potential of increasing the energy density close to three times that of the NiCd. In addition to high capacity, the load characteristics are reasonably good and behave similarly to the NiCd in terms of discharge characteristics (similar shape of discharge profile, but different voltage). The flat discharge curve offers effective utilization of the stored power in a desirable voltage spectrum.

The high cell voltage allows battery packs with only one cell. Most of today’s mobile phones run on a single cell, an advantage that simplifies battery design. To maintain the same power, higher currents are drawn. Low cell resistance is important to allow unrestricted current flow during load pulses.

The Li‑ion is a low maintenance battery, an advantage that most other chemistries cannot claim. There is no memory and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery’s life. In addition, the self-discharge is less than half compared to NiCd, making the Li‑ion well suited for modern fuel gauge applications. Li‑ion cells cause little harm when disposed.

Despite its overall advantages, Li‑ion also has its drawbacks. It is fragile and requires a protection circuit to maintain safe operation. Built into each pack, the protection circuit limits the peak voltage of each cell during charge and prevents the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. In addition, the cell temperature is monitored to prevent temperature extremes. The maximum charge and discharge current is limited to between 1C and 2C. With these precautions in place, the possibility of metallic lithium plating occurring due to overcharge is virtually eliminated.

Aging is a concern with most Li‑ion batteries and many manufacturers remain silent about this issue. Some capacity deterioration is noticeable after one year, whether the battery is in use or not. Over two or perhaps three years, the battery frequently fails. It should be noted that other chemistries also have age-related degenerative effects. This is especially true for the NiMH if exposed to high ambient temperatures.

Storing the battery in a cool place slows down the aging process of the Li‑ion (and other chemistries). Manufacturers recommend storage temperatures of 15°C (59°F). In addition, the battery should be partially charged during storage.

Manufacturers are constantly improving the chemistry of the Li‑ion battery. New and enhanced chemical combinations are introduced every six months or so. With such rapid progress, it is difficult to assess how well the revised battery will age.

The most economical Li-ion battery in terms of cost-to-energy ratio is the cylindrical 18650 cell. This cell is used for mobile computing and other applications that do not demand ultra-thin geometry. If a slimmer pack is required (thinner than 18 mm), the prismatic Li‑ion cell is the best choice. There are no gains in energy density over the 18650, however, the cost of obtaining the same energy may double.

For ultra-slim geometry (less than 4 mm), the only choice is Li‑ion polymer. This is the most expensive system in terms of cost-to-energy ratio. There are no gains in energy density and the durability is inferior to the rugged 18560 cell.


Advantages and Limitations of Li-ion Batteries


High energy density — potential for yet higher capacities.

Relatively low self-discharge — self-discharge is less than half that of NiCd and NiMH.

Low Maintenance — no periodic discharge is needed; no memory.


Requires protection circuit — protection circuit limits voltage and current. Battery is safe if not provoked.

Subject to aging, even if not in use — storing the battery in a cool place and at 40 percent state-of-charge reduces the aging effect.

Moderate discharge current.

Subject to transportation regulations — shipment of larger quantities of Li-ion batteries may be subject to regulatory control. This restriction does not apply to personal carry-on batteries.

Expensive to manufacture — about 40 percent higher in cost than NiCd. Better manufacturing techniques and replacement of rare metals with lower cost alternatives will likely reduce the price.

Not fully mature — changes in metal and chemical combinations affect battery test results, especially with some quick test methods.

Source: The battery university