Lithium Battery: lithium metal primary battery

Lithium metal primary cells provide an output of just over 3 volts, give a high charge density & are popular for many button cells as well as some larger cylindrical types.


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Unlike their close relations the lithium ion battery, the lithium battery or lithium metal battery is a primary cell or battery technology which is not rechargeable.

Nevertheless the lithium battery is popular because it provides a very high charge density and an output voltage of just over 3 volts.

The downside of these lithium batteries is their cost. They come in more expensive than alkaline manganese of zinc carbon cells and batteries, but both of these do not provide the same level of charge for a given size. Also the voltage of the lithium batteries is greater than many other primary cells and this can be a distinct advantages in many situations.

Lithium cells development

The possibilities and benefits of using lithium as a metal within cell or battery technology has been known for very many years.

the first experimentation with lithium batteries occurred as early as 1912 when an American scientist name Gilbert Lewis undertook his first investigations into the possibility of lithium based batteries and cells.

Although he work paved the way for later developments, it took until the 1970s before the first proper batteries based around lithium technology were available. More developments took place in the 1980s and the technology became increasingly refined.

Although the lithium ion rechargeable batteries are the main forms of lithium based battery used these days, the lithium primary cells have also taken off, particularly in the form of small button cells and also some slightly larger cylindrical types such as the CR123A.

How do lithium primary cells work

Disposable primary lithium batteries must be distinguished from secondary lithium-ion or a lithium-polymer, which are rechargeable batteries. Lithium is especially useful, because its ions can be arranged to move between the anode and the cathode, using an intercalated lithium compound as the cathode material but without using lithium metal as the anode material. Pure lithium will instantly react with water, or even moisture in the air; the lithium in lithium ion batteries is in a less reactive compound.

Diagram of lithium button cell battery with MnO2 (manganese dioxide) at cathode. The most common type of lithium cell used in consumer applications uses metallic lithium as the anode and manganese dioxide as the cathode, with a salt of lithium dissolved in an organic solvent as the electrolyte.

Lithium metal cell & battery applications

Lithium batteries are widely used in portable consumer electronic devices. The term "lithium battery" refers to a family of different lithium-metal chemistries, comprising many types of cathodes and electrolytes but all with metallic lithium as the anode. The battery requires from 0.15 to 0.3 kg of lithium per kWh. As designed these primary systems use a charged cathode, that being an electro-active material with crystallographic vacancies that are filled gradually during discharge.

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