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Why Will Sustainable Future Be Powered by Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Anything that draws electricity from a power source can, technically, work on a battery. This is why batteries are used as the primary power source in an array of objects, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops; electric vehicles (especially BEVs), UPS and inverters, and communication equipment (including those used for military communications in remote areas). Additionally, these energy storage devices are also used as secondary or auxiliary sources of power in conventional ICE vehicles, marine vessels, desktop computers, and even aircraft.

Due to such a vast application area, which continues to expand with technological advancements, the lithium-ion battery market is already valued at $46,142.1 million in 2021, from where it is expected to grow to $165,847.8 million by 2030, with a 15.3% CAGR. The most common battery is perhaps the domestic pencil cell and button cell, which work on the zinc-carbon chemistry. However, they, depending on their size, can hold a maximum charge of 8,000 mAh and offer the power of 12 Wh. Other common batteries presently are NiCd, NiMH, and SLA batteries. While NiCd and NiMH variants offer low voltages, SLA batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid, both of which are dangerous chemicals.

Therefore, Li-ion batteries have begun to gain rapid popularity, especially in consumer electronics and EVs. Compared to zinc-carbon chemistry, the Li-ion technology can offer charge capacities of over 60,000 mAh. Additionally, with technological advancements, companies have been able to limit their size and weight, while increasing their capacity and power output. Plus, these variants can be charged around 500 times over their lifetime, compared to the fewer than 300 charge cycles SLA batteries offer. Further, Li-ion variants are easier to dispose of, since they contain no or weakly toxic materials.

Key Applications of Lithium-Ion Batteries

  • Consumer Electronics: Li-ion batteries, being rechargeable, are widely used in smartphones, laptops, tablets, and wearable fitness trackers to enable them to run for long hours, away from a conventional electricity source. Currently, most smartphones and tablets have rechargeable Li-ion batteries.

  • Automobiles: There are two major uses of a battery in EVs: in BEVs, they are used as the primary source of propulsive power, in the absence of an engine, while in HEVs and PHEVs, they supplement the power generated by the engine. Moreover, they are used to power auxiliary systems, such as electronics, wipers, infotainment systems, ADAS, power steering and windows, B(T)MS, interior and exterior lights, and HVAC systems.

  • Aerospace and Defense: In the aerospace sector, the applications of Li-ion batteries are almost similar to their auxiliary operations in automobiles, being used to power everything on an aircraft except the turbofan. This is true for both commercial airliners and military aircraft, including fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, and tankers/transporters/mid-air refuellers. Moreover, smart (precision-guided) bombs, ICBMs, fire-and-forget missiles, tactical radios, and many other kinds of equipment deployed on the front or carried by soldiers in the field require such power sources.

  • Telecommunications: A range of telecommunications devices at base stations and transmission towers use Li-ion batteries. Since effective telecommunications will form the backbone of modern, digital economies, keeping operations running continuously will be vital, which makes a strong case for Li-ion batteries.

  • Industrial: Many industrial operations, such as mining and oil & gas E&P, are located remotely, which creates the need for a reliable source of electricity. In such cases, Li-ion batteries and generators are widely used for non-stop operations.


Potential of Li-Ion Batteries in the Renewable Energy Sector

A key emerging application of these energy storage devices is renewable energy, which has become an area of global focus in recent years. The pollution caused by burning coal, oil, and gas to generate energy is now common knowledge, which is why governments continue to make efforts for increasing the share of renewables in their energy mix. As per IRENA, in 2021, solar and wind farms together had a global installed capacity of over 1.6 million MW. However, their output is not reliable; solar PVs cannot generate electricity when cloudy or at night, while a high wind speed is important for wind power production.

In this case, a feasible solution is to store whatever excess power these technologies can generate while the demand for it is low and then sell it off when the demand for energy and, hence, the price, rise. For this purpose, second-life lithium-ion batteries, which are used batteries retaining 30–40% of their energy capacity, are being used. They are generally taken out of electric cars, buses, and trucks. This method can even be applied to individual, small-scale solar and wind utilities, such as the installations at houses, factories, and commercial spaces.

Hence, with governments going all out to reduce the usage of fossil fuels for energy generation, the demand for these devices in solar and wind farms could rise massively. For instance, mayors of over 200 U.S. counties and cities have adopted targets for 100% renewable energy. Overall, the IEA had predicted the renewable energy sector to account for 70% of the $530-billion investments in power generation technologies in 2021.

Moreover, as per a May 2022 article in The Economic Times, solar energy projects worth $196.98 billion were underway in India. Similarly, as per CNBC, in 2020 began the development of a huge offshore wind farm in the North Sea, which will have an installed capacity of 1.4 GW, enough to supply energy to 4.5 million homes! Further, as per IRENA, to meet the Paris Agreement goals, the total wind power capacity will need to increase to 1,787 GW by 2030 and 5,044 GW by 2050, with annual additions of over 200 GW over the next 20 years.

Hence, with an increase in the energy demand and renewable energy production, utilities may look to install new Li-ion batteries over second-life variants, hoping to capitalize on the higher energy efficiency of the former. However, presently, EVs remain the application with the largest potential for these energy storage devices.


Future of Li-Ion Batteries in the Automotive Industry

With EV sales continuing to rise, a lot more Li-ion batteries will be required in the coming 10 years than at present. As per the IEA, despite the dent in automotive sales during the pandemic, electric car sales rose by over 40% in 2020 from last year. This can be credited to the concrete efforts taken by governments across the globe to encourage their adoption. They include offering purchase subsidies, tax and licensing fee rebates, and providing land for component and OEM factories at lower rates.

However, the lack of EV charging stations remains a major thorn in the path to complete electric mobility. Therefore, EV hopes currently depend on the efficiency of the battery in terms of vehicle speed and driving range. Therefore, companies in the energy, electrical, and electronics fields are investing significantly in R&D to increase the energy density of Li-ion batteries, which would allow them to hold more charge for the same size.

For instance, in 2022, Toyota launched a rechargeable Li-ion battery cell, the 20Ah-HP SCiB, which offers a higher power output and energy density for commercial EVs, among other applications. Moreover, in February 2020, Panasonic and Toyota entered into a partnership to offer high-capacity prismatic Li-ion batteries for automobiles. In the same vein, in February 2019, LG Chem invested over $1 billion to increase its EV battery manufacturing capacity at its Nanjing factory in Eastern China.

Thus, with the prices of Li-ion batteries also reducing, their demand in various existing and emerging applications will only increase, especially as the world paces toward a sustainable future powered by clean energy.




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