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 an unpredictable entity – and of course, the sun does have 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 a variety of situations where portable power is necessary – this had particular relevance in developing countries.
Trends in battery technology that 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 are putting electric cars even further into the mainstream vehicle market.
And what about the growth in demand for batteries that can 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 is going to get 50% bigger by the end of 2020.
Industry researchers have predicted that by 2040, there will 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 sulfide 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 subject of intense R&D. 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 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.
There are also researchers developing wireless inductive charging for batteries, that rides on Wi-Fi or other electromagnetic waves. Graphene batteries are also currently under early stages of development, as are micro-supercapacitors to supercharge cells. There are even ‘3D’ battery concepts in R&D, that harness the potential of a copper foam substrate – and a study into ‘paper-like’, foldable batteries.
Could the battery of the future will 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 that is packed with potential, energised by demand and only limited by the ingenunity of the human mind.