How Rechargeable Lithium Batteries Work

Plugging a battery into a laptop computer, cell phone or digital camera causes electrical energy to flow between its positive and negative electrodes through chemical reactions, providing electrical energy that can be turned into useful work such as operating motors or lighting bulbs.

Lithium batteries power our portable consumer electronics and are also used in electric cars and power storage applications.


Rechargeable lithium batteries power many consumer products from cell phones to laptop computers, as well as numerous industrial and residential energy storage systems. Their primary advantage over traditional lead-acid ones is their higher energy density; their main mechanism uses an ion exchange process to transfer energy between positive and negative terminals. As their internal resistance increases with cycling and age, however, a battery management system (BMS) prevents it from reaching an unsafe state.

Lithium-ion batteries are well known for their compact size and lightweight, making them an excellent option for mobile applications. Used in handheld tools like drills, saws and sanders they provide extended use without losing their charge or needing replacement; not to mention being more environmentally friendly than non-rechargeable alternatives.

Cost-cutting technology, increasing demand for electric vehicles and lower production costs have all played an essential role. But lithium batteries still cost more than their lead-acid counterparts.

One factor contributing to this cost disparity is the high costs associated with lithium-ion battery manufacturing raw materials. Lithium and cobalt, two precious and toxic metals found within batteries, are rare and costly resources that must be obtained from around the world in order to produce these batteries. As demand for EVs rises and demand drops off accordingly, lithium prices should drop as demand drops off; additionally, new battery factories are opening and this may further deflate prices, pushing the industry toward cost competitiveness with traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

Price considerations also take into account the cost of battery management systems (BMSs), which aid in controlling safety conditions. A BMS can prevent batteries from charging too rapidly, thus helping ensure their long-term reliability and lowering overall costs.

Rechargeable lithium batteries are ubiquitous across consumer and industrial products, as well as being the cornerstone of an expanding market of electric vehicles (EVs). As environmental concerns and improving fuel efficiency drive the growth of this sector, demand for lithium-ion batteries will only continue to increase over time.


Rechargeable lithium batteries are commonly found in portable consumer electronics, electric vehicles and solar energy storage systems, yet can pose a fire hazard if improperly used, charged or stored. Damaged or overcharging can cause the batteries to overheat and explode resulting in fires that threaten businesses, buildings and the natural environment – this is why NFPA offers several resources promoting safe use of lithium batteries.

Lithium batteries feature positive electrodes crafted of lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) and negative electrodes made of carbon. A separator sits between these electrodes to allow ions to freely pass through an electrolyte liquid; during charging, lithium ions from LiCoO2 move toward carbon to create an electrical current; during discharge they move back towards LiCoO2, potentially speeding up this process due to overcharging, mechanical damage or extreme temperatures.

Lithium-ion battery fires can be difficult for firefighters to contain and can quickly spread, causing extensive damage to property, buildings and the natural environment. Therefore, raising employee awareness on proper handling, use, storage and charging of lithium batteries is crucial.

Batteries must be stored in well-ventilated areas, as they do not react well to high levels of heat and humidity. Furthermore, large lithium battery stores (such as those used in power stations and electric vehicles) should be kept separate from public areas in order to minimise fire risks.

Always choose lithium batteries and chargers certified by an internationally-recognized testing laboratory. Furthermore, keep a close eye on any devices utilizing these batteries, and remove them if they smell strange, show signs of overheating, change shape significantly or leak or smoke.

Life Expectancy

Lithium batteries typically last over 10 years when properly charged and maintained. They’re ideal for power tools, laptops, tablets, electric vehicles and mobility aides, although how long a lithium battery actually lasts will depend on how it’s charged, stored and used.

Lithium batteries must be stored in a cool and dry environment and recharged after each use, and maintained at 30-50% state of charge (SoC) to prolong their lifespan and extend its life expectancy.

Lithium batteries are designed to operate optimally within a specified voltage range. Excessive voltage exposure can have disastrous results on cells, shortening life expectancies and increasing safety risks. When charged beyond their recommended voltage thresholds, lithium ions begin to depose uncontrollably onto anodes leading to thickening SEI layers and reduced capacities; occasionally this could even cause rupture or explosion of cells!

Depth of Discharge (DoD) plays an integral part in lithium battery longevity. Discharging below 50% not only shortens run time but also hinders its capacity to hold onto charges.

Maintaining lithium batteries requires using a charger that automatically shuts off when the battery has reached full charge, to prevent overcharging which could erode internal components and shorten its cycle life.

Avoid extreme temperatures that could adversely impact lithium battery’s lifespan by keeping their temperature between 20-25 degrees Celsius; doing so has been shown to extend their life by up to two times more compared to operating them under extreme cold or heat conditions.


Lithium batteries have many applications, from powering mobile phones and laptop computers, to providing electricity for electric vehicles or solar energy storage, or medical applications like pacemakers. Lithium batteries are much lighter than lead-acid batteries and can last for extended periods without degrading in performance or capacity. Each lithium battery consists of an anode, cathode, separator and electrolyte which together make up its makeup. Lithium ions are stored at both anode and cathode locations, while positive and negative current collectors are separated by electrolyte. When charging is taking place, an electric current flows from positive current collector to negative current collector. As lithium ions travel through electrolyte and interact with an anode to release free electrons which then flow through to devices being powered, causing it to generate electricity.

Lithium metal batteries were first created by Akira Yoshino, Stanley Whittingham, and John Goodenough and are known as lithium metal cells. Due to their lightweight and high energy density, these lithium metal batteries quickly became popular due to their lightweight nature and lightweight handling requirements. Unfortunately however, lithium metal batteries must be handled carefully as metal reacts with electrolyte to form dendrites which may damage outer electrode surfaces, eventually leading to failure of an anode over time.

Graphite anodes are the primary type of anode found in lithium batteries, using intercalation to store lithium ions between the layers of carbon in bulk graphite structure. This allows lithium ions to be placed between carbon layers within its structure for storage purposes allowing shaped anodes with different sizes and shapes; unlike silicon anodes that alloy with lithium to increase capacity during charging/discharging cycles.

Researchers are exploring new materials that can store more lithium ions than graphite anodes to increase the capacity of lithium batteries, but incorporating these new materials requires significant work and research, since forming full-cell chemistry batteries requires multiple stages of optimization and development that may take months and be financially costly.

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