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2017-05-11

Sony plans to boost battery performance 40 percent by 2020



In 1991, Sony introduced the first commercial lithium-ion battery. While it took a few years for the invention to gather steam, lithium-ion technology is now the cornerstone of our entire battery industry. Now, the Japanese company wants to revolutionize the industry again, and claims it can boost existing battery capacities by up to 40%, with commercial introduction slated for 2020. That claim, however, does require an initial caveat. According to Nikkei, Sony wants to boost battery capability from 700Wh/L (lithium-ion) to 1,000Wh/L (lithium-sulfur). This claim does not seem to reflect the actual state of lithium-ion battery capacities in the real world, nor the vast majority of the charts and graphs that measure lithium-ion battery performance.

The reason lithium-ion batteries stretch over such a vast range is because different devices and applications require very different chemistries and formulations. Lithium-ion devices designed to deliver high amounts of power tend to have low energy density, while batteries that deliver a small amount of power can pack far more energy per unit volume.
It’s impossible to evaluate Sony’s 700Wh/L and 1,000Wh/L target without knowing more about the respective devices those chemistries are meant to power. The general target of a 40% improvement by 2020, however, could turn the corner on widespread battery adoption.
Nikkei claims that Sony is working on two different types of battery chemistry — the aforementioned lithium-sulfur, and a new magnesium-sulfur battery. How this new battery technology would perform in relation to well-established lithium-ion is unknown, but magnesium is more abundant in the Earth’s crust, doesn’t react in air, and is relatively easy to mine. Sony is apparently focusing on these new capacities, eschewing research into lithium-air batteries. These promise enormous energy density leaps, but are volatile and have long-standing problems between them and commercialization.
Many would argue that we don’t necessarily need anything as radical as lithium-air to make a battery + renewable energy economy much more feasible. A hypothetical lithium-sulfur battery that could match the weight of current lithium-ion batteries would either offer 40% more range at the same weight, or could be used to make a much lighter battery at equivalent range to current lithium-ion. This would have a significant impact on so-called “range anxiety” for electric cars.
With Sony targeting a 2020 introduction, it could still be 2025 – 2030 before we actually see widespread adoption across the entire industry. It took years for lithium-ion to move from niche applications to broad availability, and we expect there would be a learning curve for lithium-sulfur as well.