|Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context |
on July 20, 2016 at 10:12 am
The Battery Series
Part 2: Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context The Battery Series
is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to
know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply,
demand, and future applications.
Presented by: Nevada Energy Metals, Formation Metals, and Great Lakes Graphite
Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context In Part 1, we examined the evolution of battery technology.
In this part, we examine what batteries can and cannot do, and the
energy problem that humans hope that batteries can help solve.
Batteries enable many important aspects of modern life.
are portable, quiet, compact, and can start-up with the flick of a
switch. Importantly, batteries can also store energy from the sun and
wind for future use.
However, batteries also have many
limitations that prevent them from taking on an even bigger role in
society. They must be recharged, and they hold a limited amount of
energy. A single battery cycle is only so long, and after many of them
they begin to lose potency.
Therefore, to understand the market
for batteries and how it may look in the future, it is essential to
understand what a battery can and cannot do.
Energy Density The biggest difference between batteries and other fuel types is in energy density.
the best lithium-ion batteries have a specific energy of about 250
Wh/kg. That is just 2% of the energy density of gasoline, and less than
1% of hydrogen.
While it may be enough to power a car, it’s also
magnificent engineering that helps makes this possible. Airplanes,
ships, trains, and other large power drains will not be using batteries
in powertrains anytime soon.
A Renewable Future? Renewable
energy sources like solar and wind face a similar problem – today’s
battery technology cannot store big enough payloads of energy. To
balance the load, excess energy must be stored somehow to be used when
the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
industrial-strength battery systems are not yet fully developed to
handle this storage problem on a widespread commercial basis, though
progress is being made in many areas. New technologies such as vanadium
flow batteries could play an important role in energy storage in the
future. But for now, large-scale energy storage batteries are
Other energy storage technologies may also solve this problem:
Solving this energy storage problem will pave the way for more use of renewables in the future on a grander scale.
- Chemical storage: Using excess electricity to create hydrogen fuel, which can be stored.
- Pumped hydro: Using electricity to pump water up to a reservoir, which can be later used to generate hydroelectric power.
- Compressed air: Using electricity to compress air in deep caverns, which can be released to generate power.
Sweet Spot Therefore, the sweet spot for battery use today comes when
batteries can take advantage of their best properties. Batteries can be
small, portable, charged on the go, and provide energy at the flick of a
It’s why so many rechargeable batteries are used in:
electronics, laptops, smartphones, electric cars, power tools, startup
motors, and other portable items that can benefit from these traits.
To assess the suitability of a particular type for any specific use, there are 10 major properties worth looking at:
There are many
pros and cons to consider in choosing a battery type. The more pros that
a given battery technology can check off the above list, the more
likely it is to be commercially viable.
- High Specific Energy:
Specific energy is the total amount of energy stored by a battery. The
more energy a battery can store, the longer it can run.
- High Specific Power:
Specific power is the amount of load current drawn from the battery.
Without high specific power, a battery cannot be used for the high-drain
activities we need
- Affordable Cost: If the price
isn’t right for a particular battery type, it may be worth using an
alternative fuel source or battery configuration for economic reasons
- Long Life:
The chemical makeup of batteries isn’t perfect. As a result, they only
last for a number of charge/discharge cycles – if that number is low,
that means a battery’s use may be limited.
- High Safety:
Batteries are used in consumer goods or for important industrial or
government applications – none of these parties want batteries to cause
- Wide Operating Range: Some chemical
reactions don’t work well in the cold or heat – that’s why it’s
important to have batteries that work in a range of temperatures where
it can be useful.
- No Toxicity: Nickel cadmium
batteries are no longer used because of their toxic environmental
implications. New batteries to be commercialized must meet stringent
standards in these regards.
- Fast Charging: What good would a smartphone be if it took two full days to recharge? Charge time matters.
- Low Self-Discharge:
All batteries discharge small amounts when left alone over time – the
question is how much, and does it make an impact on the usability of the
- Long Shelf Life: The shelf life of batteries
affects the whole supply chain, so it is important that batteries can
be usable many years after being manufactured.
Now that you know what
batteries can and cannot do, we will now look at the rechargeable
battery market in Part 3 of the Battery Series.