Spotlight on

Energy Storage Technologies

Energy storage technology is an area of constant innovation. For years we have been trying to squeeze a little bit more performance from our electronic devices. However, we are now at a juncture where society’s power demands have risen to a level where future development of entire industries depends on significant advances in this technology.

Investment in energy storage technology comes from a wide range of industries and is of sufficient importance that many governments, including the US and UK, are also investing heavily. 

In renewable energy, innovations in the battery sector will be vital to the development of appropriate local power storage which in turn should enable a higher proportion of worldwide electricity production to rely on periodic renewable generation systems.  As concerns grow about climate change and a larger proportion of the world’s energy is derived from renewable sources, the challenges posed by the variable and periodic nature of wind and solar power will become even more apparent.  One solution is to store the energy from the renewable source to smooth out the peaks and troughs in supply, but this presents a major challenge using existing battery technologies.

Large-scale battery installations are springing up across electricity grids around the world, to provide this flexibility. Worldwide adaptable power storage capacity was 27GW/56GWh at the end of 2021, which is expected to increase 15-fold by the end of 2030. In the UK alone, as of the end of 2022, there was around 2.4GW/2.6GWh of large-scale battery capacity installed across 161 sites, with a further 20.2GW approved in planning.

In the world of electric vehicles, cheaper, lighter more environmentally friendly battery technologies will be necessary for this type of vehicle to be widely adopted and to meet the goal of providing truly sustainable personal vehicles.   There is growing global demand for fully electric and zero emission vehicles, with the market estimated to be worth £5bn in the UK and £50bn in Europe by 2025.

Innovation in the EV market is now essential to enable governments worldwide to meet their commitments to reduce dependence on traditional petrol and diesel technologies – for example the UK government commitment to end the sales of conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2030 in order to meet clean air targets.  One of the major problems facing EV development relates to the limitations of their batteries: the “range anxiety” of consumers, their cost, their weight, the charge time, the charge density (the charge per kilogram of battery) and the availability of charging stations.

Innovation in the EV market is now essential to enable governments worldwide to meet their obligations to reduce dependence on traditional petrol and diesel technologies. For example, the UK and EU have pledged to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2035, while several US states have also made a similar commitment. One of the major problems facing EV development relates to the limitations of their batteries: the “range anxiety” of consumers, their cost, their weight, the charge time, the charge density (the charge per kilogram of battery) and the availability of charging stations. Numerous aspects of battery performance and charging infrastructure still need to be improved to entice a greater proportion of motorists to replace their traditional combustion engine vehicles with EVs. 

There is even a growing body of research into electric or hybrid powered aeroplanes. Reducing the use of traditional fuels for aeroplanes would go some way to reducing the environmental impact of travel. Although it is thought that large-scale rollout of electric passenger jets is still many years away, Eviation made a step forward in this field in September 2022 by conducting a successful 8-minute flight of its “Alice” prototype, a 9-seater short-distance plane, which is hoped to enter the market in 2027, pending further developments in battery technology.
 
Although battery development tends to take centre stage in the news, other exciting areas within the field of electrical energy storage also deserve attention and have been subject to notable developments over recent years. For example, supercapacitors offer a crucial ally to batteries in creating the electrically-powered world of the future, and development in this field is rapidly accelerating.

Read our Blogs

How liquid air can store solar and wind energy

How liquid air can store solar and wind energy

by Callum McGuinn

Storing energy from solar and wind is a huge challenge. We talk to Highview Power, whose liquid air concept means solar and wind farms can store energy for the long term.

Electric ships are here. But how to charge them?

Electric ships are here. But how to charge them?

by Simon Parry

Ports need to supply ships with megawatts of power to charge in under two hours. The BlueStor consortium is developing batteries for the job.

Capturing solar and wind: how Geyser Batteries can balance the grid

Capturing solar and wind: how Geyser Batteries can balance the grid

by Callum McGuinn

The grid needs a rapid way to balance input and output. Geyser Batteries of Finland may have the ideal solution.

Sodium alternatives to lithium-ion batteries? Na, we’re not Li-ion!

Sodium alternatives to lithium-ion batteries? Na, we’re not Li-ion!

by Matthew Barton

The importance of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries in modern society is no secret. They dominate the rechargeable battery market due to their high power density and cycling stability, making them ...

Gigafactories & IP: Protecting the processes that power the future

Gigafactories & IP: Protecting the processes that power the future

by Sophie Chua

As the use of electric vehicles (EVs) becomes increasingly prevalent, demand for batteries is set to rise at an exponential rate. To meet this demand, we are seeing the development of more and more ...

Nuclear Fusion: A Case Study in the need for a cohesive IP Strategy at the forefront of science

Nuclear Fusion: A Case Study in the need for a cohesive IP Strategy at the forefront of science

by Alexander Savin

Following on the continued success in inertial confinement research reported from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the end of 2023 saw a slew ...

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Green Energy

Battery production in Europe is predicted to increase 17-fold over the next decade. With exponential growth in any manufacturing industry, sustainability becomes paramount.

Many mines which provide the critical minerals required for batteries are in biodiverse areas with sensitive ecosystems. As existing mines expand and new mining contracts are granted, governments and companies involved in extraction will need to work together to ensure that this biodiversity is protected for the benefit of all of us.

The three pillars of sustainability are reduce, reuse and recycle. Although we won’t be reducing our battery use any time soon, there is certainly a focus on the reuse and recycling of batteries and their components. Spent EV batteries could be repurposed within a battery bank to store surplus energy for the grid, and innovative chemical processes are being developed to enable the separation and extraction of the valuable metals from within the electrodes of batteries reaching the end of their usable life.

Other technological developments are focussed on improving the chemistry within batteries so that they can be recharged a greater number of times before they eventually fail, effectively increasing their life and reducing waste.

Policymakers are also powering battery sustainability. The EU is committed to fostering a circular economy for batteries. From 1 July 2024, all rechargeable industrial and EV batteries will require a carbon footprint declaration, which will eventually transition into a mandatory maximum lifecycle carbon footprint threshold. This comes alongside a “battery passport” which will register information on each battery model placed on the market.

planet earth

Let's Look at Lithium-ion

Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives, with the average home now full of rechargeable devices harbouring the technology. The importance of this was recognised in 2019 when John Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in the early development of lithium-ion energy storage devices.

One reason for the hype is that lithium-ion technology could help reduce emissions and clean up our cities. The WHO estimates that road transport accounts for around 17% of global CO2 emissions. A world in which fossil fuel-powered vehicles are replaced by rechargeable alternatives is appealing to anyone interested in reducing the devastating impact of climate change, or improving local pollution levels in our cities.

An important area of development is providing batteries with high capacity and high voltage, a combination which results in the delivery of more energy. The capacity of the cathode is the limiting factor for lithium-ion batteries. Cathode material development has therefore been a crucial area of research.

Lithium cobalt oxide (LCO), discovered by Goodenough in the early 1980s, has been the most commercially successful cathode material, still being found in many lithium-ion batteries used today. It has the advantage of providing a large specific capacity of 274 milliamp hours per gram of material (mAh/g). Despite this, LCO suffers from reduced capacity at high discharge rates, which is a major concern when developing batteries for EVs. Small electronic devices operate on a trickle of current from the battery – a low discharge rate. But the capacity of a battery will often be lower when a battery is discharged more quickly. A heavy EV needs a lot of power over a small space of time when accelerating, so another area of development has concentrated on finding alternatives to LCO, which maintain high capacity even at higher discharge rates. On top of this, the high cost of elemental cobalt renders LCO too expensive for widespread commercial use.

Based on the low cost and low environmental impact of manganese relative to cobalt, compounds such as lithium manganese oxide (LMO) have been investigated as potential cathode materials, but a major stumbling block for such manganese-containing materials is capacity fade. Lithium-ion batteries lose some capacity with every charge. For a mobile phone this isn’t a huge problem, but for an EV this means range would reduce for the vehicle over time.

LCO and LMO fall within the broader category of transition metal oxide materials and there has been much research into other materials within this category. However, other types of cathode materials are now also growing in popularity. For example, lithium iron phosphate (LFP), which is a so-called “polyanion” material, is being quickly adopted by several EV manufacturers, due to the thermal stability, high power and fast charging that it offers. LFP is a cobalt-free material that also has relatively low toxicity and cost.

As of September 2022, the market share of LFP batteries had risen to 31%, and this is expected to continue to grow. For instance, Ford is planning to build a new $3.5bn factory in Michigan, USA for the production of these batteries. Ford will use technology developed by Chinese firm CATL, who also supply batteries to a range of other EV makers, such as Tesla, BMW and Volkswagen.

Battery Report - 3 Page Spread

Battery Insights & IP Trends

Special Reports 2023

In this report we delve into the different aspects of the battery lifecycle.  We look at some of the recent exciting innovations that have caught our eye; not only in the materials and manufacture of cells themselves, but also in the associated fields relating to how batteries are being used, and the often-neglected end of life considerations.

We have also conducted proprietary research into patent fling data and pull out some interesting trends that illustrate how IP is playing a significant role in both driving and protecting these innovations around the world.

This report demonstrates how innovation is blossoming in all areas of the battery ecosystem driven by both pressures and incentives; and how patents are playing a big part in protecting inventions and forming one branch of a wider commercial strategy.

Download the report

Forward-looking for Energy Storage

Electrical energy storage is so essential to such a huge range of devices that any significant developments in the basic technologies available will resonate throughout our daily lives.  

It is generally considered that, at least in the short term, energy storage advances will come from incremental development of traditional lithium ion type batteries. Nevertheless, we find ourselves at a juncture, facing the need for both improved recycling of lithium ion batteries and the commercial realisation of different forms of battery and other energy storage solutions.

Major growth in the uptake of battery use brings with it the challenge of a sharp rise in battery waste.  Lithium-ion batteries, which are currently used as the power storage unit in hybrid and EVs, tend to contain toxic and rare transition metals in their cathode material, such as cobalt, nickel and manganese. Lithium itself is found in relatively few countries and the global supply is not thought to be sufficient to replace all conventional vehicles with EVs using today's battery technology. Owing to their lower toxicity as compared with lead-acid or nickel-cadmium batteries, where up to 99% of toxic material is reclaimed, there is not an established recycling industry for lithium ion batteries.  However, the sheer volume of disused lithium ion batteries and the increasing shortage of materials required to manufacture them means that effective re-use strategies for lithium ion batteries and/or alternative high energy density power storage solutions will need to be developed to mitigate against potential future global and environmental crises.

The need for new battery technologies to satisfy industry and many other areas is clear. Additionally, public interest in climate change and environmental damage is likely to drive consumer demand for innovative products in these areas, providing a healthy incentive for investment in energy storage research and development.

Find out more about our experience in the materials space.

Meet our Energy Storage Tech Specialists

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Mewburn Ellis

FORWARD MAGAZINE

Mewburn Ellis Forward is a biannual publication that celebrates the best of innovation and exploration. Through its pages we hope to inform and entertain, but also to encourage discussion about the most compelling developments taking place in the scientific and entrepreneurial world. Along the way, we’ll engage with the IP challenges that international organisations face every day.