These slides were originally developed as a part of an Earth Week presentation for a general audience, but can also be used as part of a general chemistry course or any course with electrochemistry. They provide a modern context and relevance to how lithium-ion batteries are produced and function.
The goals of these slides are that the audience better understand how lithium-ion batteries store electrical potential, the construction of the anode/cathode materials, the movement of lithium electrolytes in the battery, and the human and economic costs to producing lithium ion batteries.
Slide 1: Title slide, Creative Commons License information.
Slide 2 shows the importance of lithium-ion technology by citing the 2019 Nobel prize in chemistry and the wide array of lithium-ion battery uses in society.
Slide 3 is animated to show movement of lithium ions as a Li-ion battery powers a device. Metallic lithium (Li (s)) is oxidized at the anode to move a high potential electron through the circuit to power a device and eventually reduce the metal oxide (MO2) material that makes up the cubane structure in the cathode. The lithium ion electrolytes migrate from the anode to the cathode through a polymer separator that functions as the salt bridge. Copper foil and aluminum foil serve as current collectors to help facilitate the movement of the electrons. An organic solvent, such as dimethyl carbonate, is used. I like to point out how the charge balances with the lithium cations following the negatively charged electrons.
Slide 4 is a reversal of slide 3, showing the charging of a lithium ion battery involves the reverse movement of the lithium ions. Make sure to highlight the reversal of the electrical potential from positive to negative. It may be worth highlighting the intercalation of the lithium and lithium ions in both half-cells prolongs battery life and does a fairly good job preventing the formation of lithium dendrites that could eventually puncture the cell or cause an electrical short.
Slide 5 shows some of the inherent drawbacks of using lithium as a battery material including its pyrophoric nature and scarcity in earth’s crust. I also usually discuss cobalt being used as a cathode material, and its scarcity as well.
Slides 6 and 7 bring in some of the economic concerns of using these relatively rare metals on the global scale. I would highly recommend reading the cited New York Times article and using it to set up slide 7 that shows the massive price jumps these metals can experience as a part of geopolitical conflicts.
Slide 8 highlights some of the human and environmental costs of continuing to scale up global use of lithium-ion batteries. I would again recommend reading the cited news articles to provide a broader context for your audience.
These slides were originally developed for a public seminar on batteries, so my only goal was greater education of a general audience, which I believe these slides achieved. When I implement these in a general chemistry class I will likely have one or two open ended quiz or exam questions related to the construction of the lithium-ion batteries and/or issues with using lithium and cobalt. Otherwise, I do think students do appreciate an example about modern batteries in general chemistry beyond just the Daniell cell found in most textbooks.
I have not had the chance to implement this in a classroom setting yet, though during the presentation to a general audience, it seemed very well received.