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Primary Lithium

Lithium metal emerged in the 1960s as an attractive anode material for primary batteries due to its high potential energy, much higher than the standard zinc based primary batteries. Each lithium atom can easily release one of the 3 electrons orbiting around its nucleus, this gives a very negative redox potential for the Li/Li+ couple:-3.04 volts versus the hydrogen reference electrode, the most negative of all known electrochemical systems. Lithium has a remarkably high specific capacity which, combined with its low density, enables the production of batteries with high energy and reduced weight. Lithium can be combined with a large number of cathode materials to produce a battery. Many such “electrochemical couples” (lithium chemistries or lithium systems) have been tested over the years and eventually manufactured on an industrial basis. There are around eight of these systems that are in production currently.

Some of these cathode materials are solid, like manganese dioxide (MnO2), polycarbon monofluoride (CFx), iron disulfide (FeS2), and iodine (I2). Others are liquid, like thionyl chloride (SOCl2), sulfuryl chloride (SO2Cl2), or even gaseous at room temperature but maintained in the liquid state under pressure within sealed cells, like sulfur dioxide (SO2).

These systems can also be defined by the nominal open circuit voltage of the system as shown below

  • 1.5 V systems (like Li-FeS2), similar in voltage to the conventional zinc-based batteries,
  • 3.0 V systems (like Li-SO2, Li-MnO2, Li-CFx, Li-I2),
  • 3.6 V systems (like Li-SOCl2, Li-SOCl2 + BrCl, Li-SO2Cl2).

For many years now these lithium primary batteries have become the designer’s choice for many demanding applications as there are a number of advantages when using lithium primary batteries.

  • High voltage: at least for the 3.0 and 3.6 volt systems. This means that microprocessors can be powered with a single cell, and/or to decrease the number of cells per battery pack to achieve a given voltage output.
  • Operating voltage stability: typically for more than 85 % of the cell lifetime, unless the current are too high or the temperature too low.
  • Flexible current capabilities: from a few microamperes (button cells) to tens of amperes pulses (large spiral cells). (Most of Li batteries applications feature both permanent background currents not exceeding a few microamps and periodic short-lived pulses of higher magnitude.
  • Wide operating temperature range: at least -20 to +60°C and, depending on cell type, possibly -60/-40°C in the cold and up to +100°C. Temperatures up to +200°C can be achieved with lithium/aluminium alloy anodes.
  • Shelf life: with self discharge often less than 1 % per annum in storage at ambient temperature for non-spiral cells, 10+ years of shelf life is a proven reality for most lithium batteries equipped with hermetic glass sealing.
  • Long operating life: lower operating and servicing costs often come with a remarkable reliability achieved during discharges that may last longer than 15 years.
  • High energy density: the combination of the light weight of lithium cells and the high operating voltage leads to energy densities. This can be between 3-10 times greater than other primary systems.
  • No heavy metals: although the spent battery must be disposed of safely there are no heavy metals e.g. lead, mercury or cadmium that enters the waste stream.

Unfortunately, as with other battery systems, there a number of disadvantages to using lithium batteries.

  • Higher initial costs: the initial outlay per cell is more than other systems due in part to the higher component and material costs in conjunction with the sophisticated production equipment required to assemble lithium cells.
  • Passivation: long term storage can cause passivation of the cells which needs to be managed to ensure the cells start-up when required.
  • Transport regulations: lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods for shipping and this requires additional testing which can be expensive

 

LiSOCl2: Lithium Thionyl Chloride

LiSOCl2 is a primary lithium metal battery system that is manufactured predominantly in a cylindrical format. There are a small number of button cells and prismatic versions are assembled from either button or cylindrical cells in a plastic housing. The cylindrical cells are available in both bobbin and spirally wound constructions. Bobbin type constructions are used mainly in low rate application whereas spirally wound cells are designed for higher rate applications, up to 2 A.

Lithium thionyl chloride cells have very long shelf life and can be used in applications operating between 10 and 20 years.

Advantages:

  • High voltage
  • Operating voltage stability
  • Flexible current capabilities
  • Wide operating temperature range.
  • Long shelf life
  • Long operating life
  • High energy density
  • No heavy metals

Disadvantages:

  • Higher initial costs
  • Toxic materials if cell vents/is opened
  • Passivation
  • Transport regulations

Storage:

Should be stored at temperatures below 30 C.

Applications for Bobbin Cells:

  • Memory Back-Up (MBU)
  • Computers Real-Time Clocks (RTC)
  • Photo/Video cameras
  • Utility meters (gas, water, electricity, heat)
  • Heat Cost Allocators
  • Automatic Meter Readers (AMR)
  • Wireless Security/Alarms systems
  • Electronic toll collection systems
  • Medical Drug infusion pumps
  • Lighting devices
  • Business machines
  • Industrial robots
  • Vending machines
  • Scientific instruments
  • Professional electronics
  • Mines
  • Night vision systems
  • Space
  • Oceanographic instrumentation

Applications for Spiral Cells:

  • Photo/Video cameras
  • Utility meters (gas, water, electricity, heat)
  • Heat Cost Allocators
  • Automatic Meter Readers (AMR)
  • Wireless Security/Alarms systems
  • Medical Drug infusion pumps
  • Lighting devices
  • Business machines
  • Vending machines
  • Scientific instruments
  • GPS tracking systems
  • Professional electronics
  • Emergency Location Transmitters / GPS
  • (Military) radio communication
  • (Military) thermal imaging / Laser designation
  • Sonobuoys/Beacons
  • Mines
  • Night vision systems
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
  • Unmanned Underwater vehicles (UUV)
  • Space
  • Oceanographic instrumentation

 

LiMnO2: Lithium Manganese Dioxide

LiMnO2 is a primary lithium metal battery system that is manufactured in numerous formats e.g. coin cells, button cells, cylindrical and prismatic. In addition, cylindrical cells are available in both bobbin and spirally wound constructions. Bobbin type constructions are used mainly in low rate application whereas spirally wound cells are designed for high rate applications, as much as 10 A continuous can be achieved.

Advantages:

  • High voltage
  • Operating voltage stability
  • Flexible current capabilities
  • Wide operating temperature range.
  • Long Shelf life
  • Long operating life
  • High energy density
  • No heavy metals

Disadvantages:

  • Higher initial costs
  • Passivation
  • Transport regulations

Storage:

Should be stored at temperatures below 30 C.

Applications for Bobbin Cells:

  • Memory Back-Up (MBU)
  • Computers Real-Time Clocks (RTC)
  • Photo/Video cameras
  • Utility meters (gas, water, electricity, heat)
  • Heat Cost Allocators
  • Automatic Meter Readers (AMR)
  • Wireless Security/Alarms systems
  • Electronic toll collection systems
  • Medical Drug infusion pumps
  • Lighting devices
  • Business machines
  • Industrial robots
  • Vending machines
  • Scientific instruments
  • Professional electronics
  • Mines
  • Night vision systems
  • Space
  • Oceanographic instrumentation

Application for Spiral Cells:

  • Photo/Video cameras
  • Utility meters (gas, water, electricity, heat)
  • Heat Cost Allocators
  • Automatic Meter Readers (AMR)
  • Wireless Security/Alarms systems
  • Medical Drug infusion pumps
  • Lighting devices
  • Business machines
  • Vending machines
  • Scientific instruments
  • GPS tracking systems
  • Professional electronics
  • Emergency Location Transmitters / GPS
  • (Military) radio communication
  • (Military) thermal imaging / Laser designation
  • Sonobuoys/Beacons
  • Mines
  • Night vision systems
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
  • Unmanned Underwater vehicles (UUV)
  • Space

 

LiSO2: Lithium Sulfur Dioxide

LiSO2 is a primary lithium metal battery system with a liquid cathode. Sulfur dioxide is a gas at room temperature and is held inside the cell under high pressure to keep it in its liquid state. It is predominantly made in spirally wound cylindrical cells which are hermetically sealed. LiSO2 is mostly used in applications that require high drain rate capability and a wide operating temperature range.

Advantages:

  • Direct compatibility with applications that use primary alkaline and zinc chloride AA and AAA cell sizes.
  • Operate at higher power/currents than alkaline cells.
  • Longer operating duration in moderate to heavy drain applications.
  • Wider operating temperature range, will operate at extremely low temperatures (-40 °C).
  • Flat discharge curve compared to other 1.5 V primary battery systems.
  • Long shelf life, over 8 years.
  • 40 % lighter than comparable alkaline cells.

Disadvantages:

  • Only available in AA and AAA sizes
  • Relatively high cost
  • Crimp seal can leak solvents at higher temperatures (above 60 °C).
  • Limited number of manufacturers unlike alkaline cells.

Storage:

Should be stored at temperatures below 30 °C.
 

LiFeS2: Lithium Iron Disulfide

LiFeS2 is a primary lithium metal battery system that is used in applications that currently use alkaline primary cells. LiFeS2 is manufactured in a spirally wound cylindrical cell construction in AA and AAA format only. LiFeS2 cells contain internal protection to protect against external short circuits.

Application:

Any where alkaline cells are currently used, especially higher drain applications, e.g. digital cameras.

Advantages:

  • Direct compatibility with applications that use primary alkaline and zinc chloride AA and AAA cell sizes
  • Operate at higher power/currents than alkaline cells
  • Longer operating duration in moderate to heavy drain applications
  • Wider operating temperature, will operate at extremely low temperatures (-40 °C)
  • Flat discharge curve compared to other 1.5 V primary battery systems
  • Long shelf life, over 8 years.
  • 40 % lighter than comparable alkaline cells

Disadvantages:

  • Only available in AA and AAA sizes
  • Relatively high cost
  • Crimp seal can leak solvents at higher temperatures (above 60 °C).
  • Limited number of manufacturers unlike alkaline cells.

Storage:

Should be stored at temperatures below 30 °C.
 

LiI2: Lithium Iodine

LiI2 is a primary lithium metal battery system that is used primarily in medical applications. It differs from other lithium primary batteries in that it uses a solid electrolyte. It is manufactured in non-standard shapes specific to the primary application.

Applications:

Medical applications such as Pacemakers

Advantages:

  • Very high reliability
  • Low self discharge
  • Does not generate gas, even if there is a short circuit

Disadvantages:

  • Low output at high temperatures
  • Low Nominal OCV (open circuit voltage) 2.8V
  • High internal impendence
  • Low energy density

Storage:

Should be stored at temperatures below 30 C.