As the world considers how to transition to a low carbon energy future, battery technology is increasingly in the spotlight as holding the key to the future of energy production and storage. Industry research firm BloombergNEF forecasts that by 2030 the battery market will be worth $116 billion annually, and that doesn’t include investment in the supply chain. Despite this promise, there remain a number of technical, social and environmental issues which need to be addressed to ensure this full potential is achieved.
Lithium-ion batteries offer a light and highly efficient way to store and reuse energy. As a result, they account for the vast majority of “installed power and energy capacity”, according to a report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But, while we are carrying around our phones in our pockets and driving electric cars powered with over 7,000 individual cells, lingering questions remain about their safety.
Famously, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 made headlines in 2016 because of overcharged cells exploding; an individual in Kentucky was even hospitalised as a result. The fallout cost Samsung billions of dollars and negatively affected the way that the public perceived the brand. Less well known, but just as seriously, lithium-ion batteries contributed to a fire at a battery facility at the utility Arizona Public Service. The incident led to the hospitalisation of four firefighters who responded to the incident. In addition, fires at battery production facilities in Korea have been a persistent problem. These situations are driving global demand for new battery architectures that can help prevent these types of problems.
An Exponential Problem
While these incidents are undoubtedly newsworthy, they can be considered a small risk as the rate of failure compared to the number of lithium-ion batteries out there is statistically low. It’s not just the chemistry, however, but the way lithium-ion batteries are assembled into packs and racks – particularly for large scale residential and microgrid scale batteries – that highlights why even a small risk is unacceptable. Batteries are typically made up of many small cells. A 1MWh battery can have up to 144,000 cells – statistically, that means 420 cells may be at risk of catching fire at some point in their lives. With so many cells packed together to form the battery, the effect of a single failure can be catastrophic.
Changing the Game
The demand for energy storage will continue to grow, especially given the fact that there are more companies and governments interested in renewable energy these days. However, organisations are waking up to the safety challenges, especially at large scale. Uncontrollable fire, referred to as ‘thermal runaway’, is a significant safety risk. Businesses that understand the challenges ahead and can deliver solutions that address the safety issues that affect the energy storage sector will shape the next wave of large scale storage. In doing so, those providers can help organisations move forward with confidence toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. Examples of this include BAK in China and Australian renewable energy start-up Energy Renaissance, both of which – have licensed technology exclusively available from U.S.-based Cadenza Innovation to address these safety issues head on and can offer the world’s safest lithium-ion battery storage platform.
Guiding Principles for Battery Technology agreed by 42 global organisations
At a meeting of the Global Battery Alliance, held in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2020, the 42 member organisations – including businesses from automotive, mining, chemicals and energy with a combined revenue of approximately $1 trillion – agreed on a set of 10 principles to foster the creation of a sustainable battery value chain by 2030.
In the next decade, batteries will be a major driver in reducing the carbon footprint of the transport and power sectors, which are currently responsible for 40% of annual carbon emissions globally
These principles are intended as the first step in a responsible, sustainable battery value chain as set out in the Global Battery Alliance’s “A Vision for a Sustainable Battery Value Chain in 2030”.. Implementing commitments will be based on existing standards such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Due Diligence Guidance and economically viable considerations for a circular and low carbon economy.
They include maximizing the productivity of batteries, enabling a productive and safe second life use, circular recovery of battery materials, ensuring transparency of greenhouse gas emissions and their progressive reduction, prioritizing energy efficiency measures and increasing the use of renewable energy, fostering battery-enabled renewable energy integration, high quality job creation and skills development, eliminating child and forced labour, protecting public health and the environment and supporting responsible trade and anti-corruption practices, local value creation and economic diversification.
“We all need batteries to power the clean revolution. However, we must ensure violations of human rights do not occur anywhere in the value chain, that local communities benefit and that battery production is sustainable. These guiding principles are an important first step to build a value chain that can deliver on this promise while supporting societies and economies at the same time”, said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.
To realize the full ambition of these principles, the Global Battery Alliance is actively seeking the endorsement of additional organizations to ensure full participation throughout the battery value chain. This alignment among key players in the battery market establishes the basis for a transparent accountability system. It will guide the development of a global digital battery information disclosure system referred to as the “Battery Passport”, which is designed to enable a transparent value chain, for example, with respect to human rights and the environmental footprint.
Cadenza were interviewed by Vicki MacLeod.