Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries were said to be the next generation of rechargeable batteries and are used in today’s top electronics. But is the new Li-S lithium sulfur rechargeable battery poised to make the LiON obsolete? And are these Li-S rechargeable batteries even safe for the environment?
In case you didn’t notice it, the Lithium Ion rechargeable battery has become the darling of the technology and electronics industry. All of the top mobile devices — including the iPad and Amazon Kindle — utilize LiOn rechargeable battery technology in order to provide long-lasting, sustainable mobile battery power for high-performance gadgets that need a lot of juice for their processing power. Even the NiMH rechargeable batteries used in hybrid electric cars are said to be on the way out as LiON rechargeable batteries will supposedly offer a better charge and longer battery life.
Some even say that LiON rechargeable batteries will even overtake the NiMH rechargeable battery design in the consumer electronics marketplace someday.
However, recent advancement in a new Lithium-based rechargeable battery is beginning to turn some heads in the electronics community and suggest that the Lithium Ion battery cell may become outmoded even before it reaches its peak. A bolder Lithium battery design — the Lithium Sulfur, or Li-S rechargeable battery, was recently highlighted by the successful flight of the QinetiQ Zephyr, an unmanned drone aircraft that smashed the world record for the longest duration unmanned flight, exceeding 336 hours (14 days) of continuous flight.
The QinetiQ Zephyr did it entirely using an Li-S rechargeable battery pack, which is said to be significantly smaller, lighter, and more efficient than even the Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries.
The belief is that, although none of the major automobile manufacturers have yet to indicate that they are considering Li-S rechargeable battering for up-coming hybrid models, the results of the Zephyr will most certainly lead them to add Li-S into their R&D plans over the next few years. and if the Li-S rechargeable battery becomes a viable energy technology for aircraft and automobiles, we can safely assume that the technology will continue to be adapted for consumer electronics and even AA and AAA rechargeable batteries down the line.
There is one question yet to be asked regarding Li-S technology: is it safe for the environment?
Rechargeable battery formulas are notoriously toxic. Disposable alkaline batteries, for example, are among the most polluting to the environment and, because they are disposed of frequently, they present a continuing problem for affecting water sources and other environmental hazards. Early rechargeable battery designs, such as NiCD rechargeable batteries, offered a better option than alkalines, since they could be used over and over again for a longer period of time. But eventually when NiCad batteries make their way into a landfill and begin to break down, the cadmium offers as much pollutant to the environment as alkaline.
The more contemporary rechargeable batteries — NiMH and LiOn — offer consumers the “greenest” options for rechargeable batteries, since the predominant nickel and Lithium in these designs have nominal impact on environmental resources, such as drinking water and air, and the technologies themselves are considerably more sustainable than Nicads.
Sulfur, however, is a concerning element in the Li-S design when it comes to pollution.
Little has been said about the environmental impacts of Li-S rechargeable batteries, but the destructive nature of sulfur — and particularly sulfur dioxide — is well documented. While sulfur dioxide primarily contaminates the air, questions must be raised about how sulfur will affect the ground and water when disposed of, or whether or not incinerated Li-S battery cells could be harmful.
Even though there is a buzz about Li-S rechargeable batteries, clearly NiMH rechargeable battery technology remains the most reliable and non-polluting to this day. And since the rechargeable battery industry continues to climb towards becoming a A$5+ billion dollar industry, my guess is that we won’t see Li-S enter the consumer marketplace until it is fully tested.
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