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The science behind modern battery developments is enough to make one’s head spin. But it doesn’t take a genius to understand that there’s a limited supply of lithium out there. And some sources suggest that with hybrid and electric cars’ popularity on the rise, that supply might not last as long as we think. Could the auto industry trump tool manufacturers in the race to the last lithium deposits?

Hopefully it won’t matter. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology announced last week that they’ve successfully tested a battery that ditches the metal cathode and toxic anode structure common in current batteries, replacing them with air and oxidized silicon, respectively.

Granted, the prototype isn’t rechargeable — yet — and currently represents only a proof of concept. But the Institute suggests that more common applications could arrive in as little as ten years, and could usher in an era of cheaper, simpler, and safer-for-the-environment batteries.

But back to the auto industry for a moment. As far as I can see, a limited lithium supply might benefit Toolmongers. The auto industry’s need for more efficient batteries directly caused the development and refinement of lithium-ion technology for large applications. I’m not sure that any tool manufacturers could’ve funded and directed the research and development on their own. Maybe this is our opportunity to ride the auto industry’s back again — to better cordless tools.

Silicon, The New Lithium? [Mother Nature Network]
Israel Research Team Develops Silicon-Air Battery [EETimes]


5 Responses to Silicon To Replace Lithium-Ion In Tools?

  1. ToolGuyd says:

    While very intriguing and promising, this tech won’t be used for power tools anytime soon.

    The authors of the study go on to say in their paper that immediate and potential applications include MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), sensors, and medical devices, and other such devices for which autonomous and self sustaining energy sources are desired.

    Even if the technology is developed, it may be infeasible to scale it up for use in consumer devices, let alone power tools or autos.

  2. fred says:

    I guess that if I were in charge of the mines in Bolivia – I’d be trying to make plans about controlling the lithium supply and price.

  3. Blort says:

    Why not use mechanical batteries? I heard of a hybrid bus that uses compressed air as its battery. As it brakes air is compressed in a cylinder, and then when it starts to move again it uses the compressed air, driving an air engine, to give it a helpful shove and reduce fuel consumption. Relatively cheap, environmentally sound and could be retro fitted to larger vehicles at least.

  4. ToolGuyd says:

    Blort – it takes energy to get the bus started and moving down the road. Some of that energy is recouped using the braking system that you described, but not all. That recaptured energy would not be capable of bringing the bus up to its previous speed, but you’re right, it can impart a helpful shove.

    This type of self-regenerative mechanical power may be feasible for certain applications, but I am at a complete loss trying to imagine how it can be used in power tools. Such a system, if even possible, would also likely add additional complexities to tool designs, which could outweigh any cost or power-saving benefits.

  5. JohnAspinall says:

    It’s not as if the lithium in old batteries is gone. Once the price rises sufficiently, recycling and recovering becomes economical, and this will dampen further price rises.

    There’s also gazillions of tons of lithium dissolved in seawater in the form of various salts. Same story – too expensive to extract at the current price for Li, but it will put a very solid upper limit on how high the price can rise.

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