Calcium-based batteries could be a step closer to reality

Manufacturing calcium-based batteries could be a step closer thanks to a newly synthesized chemical discovered by researchers at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm in Germany, looking for a safer and cheaper alternative than the current lithium-based batteries.

A calcium reservoir. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Until now, researchers working on calcium batteries have lacked a suitable electrolyte, the medium through which electrical charge flows. Batteries with anodes made of calcium — a more abundant substance — might be more sustainable and safer than batteries with lithium anodes.

Researcher Zhirong Zhao-Karger and her colleagues reacted a calcium compound with a fluorine-containing compound to create a new type of calcium salt. The resulting material conducted electricity more effectively than any calcium-based electrolyte yet reported. It also efficiently conducted ions at a higher voltage than other calcium-based electrolytes.

Lithium, now used in most electrochemical storage systems and electronic devices, is relatively expensive because of limited supplies and has technical disadvantages. The lithium-ion batteries have numerous drawbacks: they sometimes catch fire, and they depend on increasingly scarce and toxic substances such as lithium and cobalt.

To create lithium batteries, there is a need for a range of rare earth metals that require heavy mining and manufacturing that emit significant emissions. Furthermore, major components such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt exist in a finite amount that is unlikely to meet the current and future demands for battery units.

Meanwhile, calcium-ion batteries, long tipped as a viable replacement, have at least twice the number of electrons as lithium units, which means higher power density in a thinner, lighter package.

Calcium is about 2,500 times as abundant as lithium in nature, making the calcium-ion energy storage technology a promising candidate for next-generation batteries due to its high performance and low cost. However, calcium-ion batteries have been unsuccessful to attain a satisfactory performance in previous studies.

The search for alternatives to lithium batteries is mostly due to demand for extended-range electric vehicles and batteries for portable gadgets that can give a longer life span, as well as a need to reduce manufacturing costs.

Electric vehicles are set to make up more than half of global passenger car sales by 2040 and completely dominate the bus market, according to this year’s Electric Vehicle Outlook report.

Electrics will take up 57% of the global passenger car sales by 2040, with electric buses dominating their sector, holding 81% of municipal bus sales by the same date. Electric models will also make up 56% of light commercial vehicle sales.

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