Ionic’s Alkaline Battery Tech Could Offer A Safer, More Powerful Option To Lithium Ion For Mobile Devices
When it comes to the mobile devices that we use on a daily basis — be it a smartphone, tablet, or laptop — we are more than likely relying on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to keep us powered through the day. However, companies have looked for an alternative to lithium-ion batteries for years, but none has fought its way to the forefront to provide a suitable challenge.
One startup company, Ionic Materials, is looking to take the fight to the lithium-ion with a battery chemistry that we’re all familiar with: alkaline. While traditional alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, Ionic has developed a solid-state version that can be recharged hundreds of times.
These rechargeable batteries would also [theoretically] be cheaper to manufacture than lithium-ion batteries, which could make for huge revolution in energy storage and any industry that currently relies heavily on large amounts of lithium-ion batteries in a single application (think electric vehicles). The battery makes up a significant portion of the cost of an EV, so dramatic reductions in in this key area could lead to lower manufacturing costs and help drive adoption with consumers.
Ionic says that its alkaline battery prototypes are currently capable of 400 recharge cycles, but is hopeful that improved manufacturing and refinements to the design will push that figure to 1,200 cycles. And when it comes to safety, these solid-state alkaline batteries don’t have nearly the same propensity for starting fires as lithium-ion batteries — we’re looking at you, Samsung.
And here’s another benefit for alkaline batteries — they rely primarily on zinc and manganese instead of toxic cobalt that is often mined using child labor. Eventually, the zinc would be tossed altogether in favor of aluminum, which would make solid state alkaline batteries even more affordable.
But of course, there are downsides to going the alkaline route, and we can immediately point to two. For starters, alkaline batteries would be heavier (at least those composed of zinc-manganese) than lithium-ion batteries. This would make them a non-starter for mobile devices and transportation duty (i.e., EVs like the new Tesla Model 3), but wouldn’t necessarily put them out of contention for stationary storage system (like the Tesla Powerwall). Replacing zinc with aluminum could make the batteries lighter, but that is still well off into the future. Secondly, we’ve all been told fantastical stories about “The Next Big Thing” in battery technology and none have proven capable enough of making it to the mainstream.
Can Ionic break the cycle of overpromising and under-delivering? We shall have to wait and see.