Batteries are powering the electric car revolution, but can we make them longer lasting, faster charging, and smaller and lighter? Beyond electric cars and other vehicles, the more applications means more renewable energy can be stored and used, driving us away from fossil fuels.
Tom Heap visits UKBIC - the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry - a vast facility to develop better batteries. He dons full protective gear to see some of the processes involved in making batteries and testing new chemistries and engineering. He speaks to Isobel Sheldon from British Volt about the goals and potential that could be realised by improving batteries.
Society Fellow and climate scientist Dr Tamsin Edwards assesses how much carbon dioxide this could potentially save.
Listen now on BBC Radio 4
What our experts say
We asked Society Fellow Dr Carlos Fernandez from Robert Gordon University to offer some observations on the potential of improved batteries to allow for the mass adoption of electric vehicles and other uses in reducing carbon emissions. Their points take some of the themes of the programme a step further.
What are the limiting factors?
With everything relatively new, a limiting factor is that more research needs to be carried out to fully explore the capabilities of those materials. So far MXenes are very promising when they are compared to graphite or graphene, in terms of long cycle lifetime and large capacity at high charge−discharge rates.
Another drawback perhaps would be the need to identify the right electrolyte for those long cycles.
What are the co-benefits?
When the battery efficiency is increased, the number of cycles is also increased and therefore, the current density is also affected by making the battery more powerful. As MXEne has the ability to increase the capacity at higher charge−discharge rates than a normal battery, the life of the battery will also increase. Consequently, charging times will be shorter and more efficient.
Are there any potential negative impacts of this idea?
As with every battery, the potential negative impacts are still the electrolyte materials which can be toxic if the battery leaks and how to dispose of the batteries once they have been fully used. Currently, as the materials are relatively new, they can be expensive compared to other traditional batteries.
About the series
39 Ways to Save the Planet is a new radio series by BBC Radio 4 developed in partnership with the Society and broadcast in 2021. It showcases 39 ideas to relieve the stress that climate change is placing on the Earth. In each 15 minute episode Tom Heap and Dr Tamsin Edwards meet the people behind a fresh and fascinating idea to cut the carbon.
Over the course of 2021, the Society will be producing events and digital content to accompany the series.