Battery trends for the coming decade
There is strong evidence that the humble battery will come of age in the next few years. For all the talk about sustainable solar and wind-generated energy, the planet’s weather is still unpredictable – and of course, the sun has the annoying habit of disappearing every day. There is now exploration into how larger-scale production of batteries – including batteries powerful enough to power a home – could be used to solve some of the Earth’s power problems. Batteries are an easy-to-transport, portable power provider. This makes them a potential power source capable of meeting energy needs in areas where a constant power supply from a national grid is potentially intermittent or even non-existent. This makes the increased battery power highly useful for various situations where portable power is necessary – this has particular relevance in developing countries.
Trends in battery technology are set to make an impact.
Electric Cars and Battery Technology for Everyday Life
When considering trends in battery technology, many people’s first thought will be the market for electric and hybrid vehicles. Finding ways to charge electric car batteries more quickly, and ensure they hold power for longer, is the driving force – excuse the pun – behind this sector. Ever-improving battery solutions put electric cars further into the mainstream vehicle market.
What about the growth in demand for batteries that run a home or business? These batteries of the future store self-generated or national grid energy and are often the size of a gas boiler. The concept may increasingly take hold to create virtual mini-power plants, managing peak energy prices.
Batteries increasingly help to energise the world
The battery of the future is also needed for more large-scale projects. High-capacity battery installations are increasingly prevalent within electricity grids in various countries, underpinning their ability to respond quickly to demands and challenges posed by the network being powered by renewables. Batteries are also increasingly used for auxiliary supply in a new form of “hybrid” renewable energy power plants, working alongside solar and wind farms.
The Birth of the Mega-Battery
The biggest battery in the world. That’s the 129 MWh one at the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia. Its output is up to 100 MW, and it will get 50% bigger by the end of 2020.
Industry researchers have predicted that by 2040, there will be almost 1,000GW of globally installed power. That’s still only a small percentage of total energy worldwide, but a highly significant and growing percentage.
What will the battery of the future look like?
Size is one area of intense innovation in battery technology, as is finding ways to ‘supercharge’ them in seconds and create an energy store that lasts for months.
So, trends in battery technology could include the emergence of solid-state versions using superionic sulphide conductors to create supercapacitors. If this proves feasible, this superior battery could charge and discharge much more efficiently and would operate at extreme temperatures.
Asymmetric temperature modulation is one of the fields of research mapping a route to super-fast- charging. It’s a concept that could also make batteries more durable.
What will the battery of the future look like?
There is a concern about the limitations of lithium-ion, so the structure and components of the battery of the future are the subjects of intense research and development. Adding sulphur to the mix is one stream of study, as is the concept of new battery chemistry that relies on elements drawn from seawater. Liquid flow batteries – storing energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water – are currently being researched.
Many readers will not have heard of sand batteries. Lithium-ion batteries – using silicon – could be replaced by graphite Li-ion batteries due to their potential for improved performance. One research project is exploring aluminium-air technology for batteries, which relies on a cathode full of oxygen.
Researchers are also developing wireless inductive charging for batteries that ride on Wi-Fi or other electromagnetic waves. Graphene batteries are also currently in the early stages of development, as are micro-supercapacitors to supercharge cells. There are even ‘3D’ battery concepts in research and development that harness the potential of a copper foam substrate – and a study into ‘paper-like’, foldable batteries.
Could the battery of the future be charged by us humans? Researchers are currently looking at power-harvesting technology that interacts with the human body. Even sound waves and urine are being investigated as ways to power batteries.
In a new decade overflowing with innovation, future battery technology is set to make a significant impact in the next few years in an industry packed with potential, energised by demand, and only limited by the ingenuity of the human mind.