Answers to Lithium Ion Battery FAQs

You have questions about lithium ion batteries, and we have answers.

The development of lithium ion batteries has changed modern life in ways that we might not often think about. Chances are, your household has several devices that use lithium ion batteries, and it’s entirely likely that the very existence of those devices might not be possible without them. 

Today we’re here to answer the most frequently asked questions about lithium ion batteries.

What Is Lithium, and Why Is It Used In Batteries?

Lithium is a group 1 alkali metal (this group also includes sodium and potassium). In addition to being the lightest of all metals, lithium also has the greatest electrochemical potential. Lithium has very high energy density, which also makes it highly reactive, which is why lithium batteries utilize a material containing lithium ions rather than pure lithium metal. 

What Are Lithium Ion Batteries Used For?

Lithium ion batteries are most widely used to power laptops, cell phones and various smart devices including smart watches and many bluetooth devices. Lithium ion batteries are also used in many modern power tools with rechargeable batteries, such as handheld power drills, saws and sanders. Electric vehicles increasingly use lithium ion batteries as well, including cars as well as e-bikes and e-scooters. 

How Long Have Lithium Ion Batteries Been Around?

The first rechargeable lithium ion batteries were introduced to the market in 1991, but research on their development dates back to the 1960s. Lithium ion batteries turned out to be a revolutionary technology, and they have drastically improved in capacity and lifespans since they were first introduced while also dropping in price. The team of scientists who developed the first lithium ion batteries were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2019. 

How Do Lithium Ion Batteries Work?

Lithium ion batteries function much like other types of batteries, and they contain the same basic components: anode, cathode, and electrolyte. In lithium ion batteries, the anode is generally made from a carbon material such as graphite, while the cathode is made of a material that contains lithium ions, such as cobalt oxide. The electrolyte separates these two components and allows lithium ions to pass between them while charging and discharging.

What Are the Advantages of Lithium Ion Batteries?

There are several advantages of lithium ion batteries that make them superior to other batteries on the market. Chief among them is the high energy density of lithium, which allows the batteries to hold more power. Lithium ion batteries also have a low self-discharge rate, which essentially translates to a longer shelf life. They are long-lasting, lightweight, low-maintenance and can be recharged quickly and easily. A lithium ion battery typically has a lifespan of 300 to 500 charge cycles. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Lithium Ion Batteries?

Like any battery, lithium ion batteries are subject to aging, and they will experience capacity loss over time. The main disadvantage of lithium ion batteries is that due to their high energy density, lithium batteries pose a risk of becoming unstable and becoming overheated as the chemical reaction inside the battery produces more heat. This is known as thermal runaway. 

Are Lithium Ion Batteries Safe?

There are risks associated with lithium batteries, particularly the risk of thermal runaway leading to fire or an explosion. That being said, lithium battery technology has vastly improved in the decades since they were first introduced, and incidences like these are becoming more and more rare. Lithium batteries seldom pose any risk unless they are punctured or damaged, they are exposed to excessive heat, or they are overcharged, which is often the result of being connected to an incorrect charger. 

How Long Does a Lithium Ion Battery Last?

The lifespan of a lithium ion battery depends on a wide range of factors, including the size and type of cell used, as well as charging habits and environmental conditions. When using a high-quality lithium ion battery under normal conditions, the life expectancy can be 10 years or more. 

How Should You Charge a Lithium Battery the First Time?

It’s a common myth that lithium batteries shouldn’t or don’t need to be fully charged. In reality, it is important to make sure a lithium ion battery is fully charged before its first use. This will ensure maximum capacity and lifespan. For most devices that use lithium ion batteries, such as phones and laptops, the initial charge may take anywhere from an hour to five hours. Leave the device plugged into the charger until the battery is full. 

Is It Possible to Overcharge a Lithium Ion Battery?

Theoretically, it is possible to overcharge a lithium ion battery, which can damage it and cause a risk of rupture as well as reducing its lifespan and capacity. However, modern lithium battery chargers have smart circuits that essentially work as a failsafe to prevent overcharging when devices are left plugged in after the battery is fully charged. It should also be noted that there is no advantage to leaving a battery plugged in longer than it needs to be, so it’s good practice to remove batteries from the charger once they are fully charged. 

Can I Use a Different Charger for Lithium Ion Batteries?

Using the incorrect charger for a lithium ion battery can be damaging and dangerous. Always use the charger that came with your battery or device. If you need to replace your charger, make sure that you replace it with a model that meets the battery manufacturer’s exact specifications. 

What Is the Difference Between Lithium and Lithium Ion Batteries?

The short answer is that lithium ion batteries are rechargeable, while lithium batteries are not. Single-use lithium batteries (sometimes referred to as lithium metal batteries) are made with an anode made of lithium metal, unlike lithium ion batteries, which have an anode made of another material that contains lithium ions. As a result, single-use lithium batteries have a higher energy density and lower self-discharge rate, but once they are drained they are useless. 

How Should You Store Lithium Ion Batteries?

Always store lithium ion batteries in a cool, dry place away from direct light, extreme temperature fluctuations and moisture. It’s also important to store them in a place where they will not come into contact with other metal objects, which can cause them to short-circuit. Storing lithium ion batteries fully charged or fully discharged can cause them to degrade, so for long-term storage, drain the battery to somewhere between 30% and 50%.

How Should You Dispose of Lithium Ion Batteries? 

Lithium ion batteries should never be disposed of in household trash or recycling. Not only do they contain chemicals that are damaging to the environment, but they can also potentially cause fires at waste and recycling facilities. Instead, take lithium batteries to a designated recycling center or drop-off point that accepts them. Many big box stores, including Home Depot and Lowes, have such drop-off points. You can search for them in your area through