How 100-Year Batteries Could do a World of Good

It's going to be a while, though

  • Researchers have shared details about a new nickel-based battery that could last for more than 100 years.
  • Such a long-lasting battery could turn out to be environmentally friendly if it can be used for multiple purposes, suggest experts.
  • Others take the 100-year claim with a pinch of salt, cautioning against predicting duration outside of actual testing.
Green battery illustration on circuit board

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Imagine a world where batteries could outlast the products they power.

Moving a step closer to such a possibility, researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, together with Tesla’s advanced battery research group, have shared details of a new nickel-based battery that under the right conditions could last an extremely long time. Battery yet, one of the paper’s authors is Jeff Dahn, considered one of the pioneers of the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery.

“Whilst this study shows promise in developing batteries that could last for a century,” Gavin Harper, Critical Materials Research Fellow, Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements & Critical Materials, at the University of Birmingham, told Lifewire over email, “we will only be able to maximize the environmental gains that could come from this technology if we are able to find applications that will make use of a battery over its century lifetime.” 

Testing Times

Row of AA batteries glowing green

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Product durability, explained Harper, isn't just a function of how long it’ll last. An equally important aspect is how attractive it remains to people over its lifecycle. To drive home his argument, Harper remarked it’s rare to see century-old vehicles plying on the road. 

“Since the battery pack would outlive the vehicle, it could be transferred into a new vehicle when the original vehicle is ready to be junked,” suggested Dr. Stephen J. Harris, Project Scientist at the Energy Storage Division in the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, in an email exchange with Lifewire.

Harper believes in order to make the best use of such long lasting batteries, it’s important to consider the range of applications they can be used for over their lifecycle, especially since they can be an enabling technology for other environmental improvements.

“The University of Birmingham's ReLIB project is investigating the reuse-and recycling of Lithium-Ion batteries, exploring how to effectively cascade cells through a range of uses over their lifecycle,” added Harper. 

One use for such long-lasting batteries, suggests Harper, would be for energy storage or backup applications, where their long-service life would be revolutionary. “Cost-effective energy storage on the grid could enable greater penetration of predictably intermittent renewable energy sources, greening the grid,” he said.

He believes one of the key things that needs to be considered going forward is the energy return on investment by determining how much energy is required to make the batteries compared to how much energy they can store over their lifetime. 

“If we can make batteries that are very long lived, then the energy stored over the lifetime will increase, and this improves the environmental impact of batteries, allowing us to manufacture more energy storage capacity for less energy input,” explained Harper.

Friendly Environment

Green battery on green leaf

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We won’t see this type of battery technology in our own lives too soon, of course: This is still at a very early research level. Harper said the proposed battery requires strict environmental controls in order to deliver on its 100-year service promise. One of the environmental requirements is that the battery operates at 25°C (77°F), which, as Harper noted, is easier to do in stationary applications.

 Furthermore, given the battery's long service life, Harper imagines that other auxiliary components of the power unit would fail before the battery. This however is something he believes can be designed around by adopting a modular approach to things like the supporting power electronics, which could be replaced or renewed over the battery's life cycle.

What if after 30 years, there is some new failure mechanism that we've never seen before and never even thought of?

Dr. Harris also cautioned against predicting lifetimes beyond the actual testing time.

He explained that even if we manage to slow down the known failure mechanisms to such an extent that we can prevent them from kicking in for at least a 100 years, no one has operated a battery in anything like today's configuration for more than a couple of decades.  

“What if after 30 years, there is some new failure mechanism that we've never seen before and never even thought of?” he asked.

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