Cars will top computers as No. 1 lithium battery market by 2015

The automotive industry -- specifically, electric vehicles -- will be the leading market for lithium-ion batteries by 2015, surpassing the current top application, laptop computers.

The automotive industry -- specifically, electric vehicles -- will be the leading market for lithium-ion batteries by 2015, surpassing the current top application, laptop computers.

That's according to a new report from iSuppli, which says that the suitability of lithium-ion technology over other battery technologies -- no "memory effect" that alters capacity, more environmentally friendly, lighter weight and in more shapes and sizes -- make them "particularly attractive" for electric vehicles.

The dominant battery technology used in hybrid cars today is nickel-metal-hydride; that's what's in the Toyota Prius, among others. But iSuppli says lithium-ion batteries -- like the ones found in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt -- will soon overtake them.

It's not all smooth sailing, however. First-generation lithium-ion batteries for cars carry a risk of fire, due to the high temperatures seen during operation. (Those stories about exploding laptops and smartphones? Yes, they had lithium-ion batteries in them.) While the risk is small, it's a major concern for something as large as a vehicle.

To manage this, battery makers are taking steps to prevent internal short circuits, through the improvement of power generation during discharge and improved management of rapid charging.

That's important for other lithium-ion battery applications, such as solar panel systems, smart grids, electric tools and, of course, the continued proliferation of mobile computers, from laptops to smartphones to tablets, estimated to reach $12.3 billion in revenue in 2020, up from $7.8 billion in 2010.

That means lithium-ion technology is getting hot -- no pun intended. Driven by this demand, iSuppli predicts 350 percent revenue growth for the technology from 2010 to 2020.

That translates to global revenue of $53.7 billion in 2020, up from $11.8 billion in 2010 and an estimated $31.4 billion in 2015.

And it's the electric car that's in the driver's seat.

“Lithium-ion at present is much more expensive than alternative technologies, costing two to three times as much as sodium-sulfur, lead-acid and nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries,” said Satoru Oyama, principal analyst of Japan electronics research for IHS iSuppli, in a statement. “However, lithium-ion pricing will decline much more rapidly than the other technologies, coming close to cost parity in 2015, and then becoming the least expensive type of rechargeable battery in 2020."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com