A lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is an advanced battery technology that uses lithium ions as a key component of its electrochemistry. During a discharge cycle, lithium atoms in the anode are ionized and separated from their electrons. The lithium ions move from the anode and pass through the electrolyte until they reach the cathode, where they recombine with their electrons and electrically neutralize. The lithium ions are small enough to be able to move through a micro-permeable separator between the anode and cathode. In part because of lithium’s small size (third only to hydrogen and helium), Li-ion batteries are capable of having a very high voltage and charge storage per unit mass and unit volume.
Li-ion batteries can use a number of different materials as electrodes. The most common combination is that of lithium cobalt oxide (cathode) and graphite (anode), which is most commonly found in portable electronic devices such as cellphones and laptops. Other cathode materials include lithium manganese oxide (used in hybrid electric and electric automobiles) and lithium iron phosphate. Li-ion batteries typically use ether (a class of organic compounds) as an electrolyte.
Due to these advantages, Li-ion batteries have displaced Ni-Cd batteries as the market leader in portable electronic devices (such as smartphones and laptops). Li-ion batteries are also used to power electrical systems for some aerospace applications, notable in the new and more environmentally friendly Boeing 787, where weight is a significant cost factor. From a clean energy perspective, much of the promise of Li-ion technology comes from their potential applications in battery-powered cars. Currently, the bestselling electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, both use Li-ion batteries as their primary fuel source.