Eco Innovation

Diversifying energy storage for a sustainable future

8th January 2024
Sheryl Miles

The global transition to renewable energy hinges on batteries. Whether it's our electric vehicles (EVs) for transportation or our electricity grids for daily energy use, sustainable batteries are crucial for enabling reliable and efficient utilisation of clean energy. 

In this insightful article, Eloisa de Castro, CEO of Enerpoly, delves into the critical role of diversifying battery chemistries in achieving sustainable energy storage solutions.

The potential is enormous — but supply chain vulnerabilities threaten this trajectory; an overreliance on any single battery chemistry will unnecessarily hamper the capacity to scale solutions. That is why implementing alternative battery chemistries like zinc-ion is essential for our future, allowing us to stabilise outputs, improve sustainability, and support further growth.

The rise of EVs has also enabled stationary batteries for electricity grids

The recent boom in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries for EVs has enabled a boom in batteries for the electricity system as well. Scaled manufacturing has led to manufacturing efficiency improvements that have reduced the cost of lithium-ion batteries immensely and positively affected energy storage adoption in stationary applications.

Lithium-ion batteries have dominated recent deployments in batteries for energy storage because of this decrease in cost, and they have excelled in short-duration applications such as frequency regulation. 

Industry analysts forecast increases in annual lithium-ion production within a decade, but the supply chains underpinning such scale-ups appear tenuous given extensive reliance on the concentration of reserves. According to a report commissioned by Eurometaux, Europe will require 21 times more lithium in 2050 compared with today in order to meet clean energy goals. Skyrocketing materials costs in recent years further highlight vulnerabilities to shortages. Still, alternatives to the ubiquitous lithium-ion battery remain conspicuously absent in many commercial applications today.

We have only scratched the surface of what stationary energy storage can do for the electricity system. Diversifying energy storage will benefit the electricity system and energy industry in general through greater flexibility, and greater diversification of batteries is needed to achieve 100% renewable energy. 

The next frontier of battery innovations for stationary energy storage

Employing different storage technologies offers a greater degree of grid flexibility and therefore resilience. Some technologies are better suited for rapid response and frequency regulation, while others excel in providing long-duration storage.

Now that lithium-ion technology has accelerated energy storage adoption, what is needed for further advancement are innovations in other technical areas affecting the deployability of energy storage. There is ample room for multiple chemistries as long as we prioritise sustainable sourcing and ethical transparency. 

Many high-potential innovations that can rapidly expand applications for energy storage will come from improvements in affordability through materials. Materials typically contribute to 60–70% of battery cost. We need battery innovation that involves using more abundant and inexpensive materials. It is also preferable that the materials we use have local and reliable supply chains. 

Innovations in safety are also a major opportunity for creating new applications for energy storage. Existing safety-critical applications such as aircraft, marine applications, critical infrastructure, and mining all benefit from batteries that cannot explode. 

Zinc-ion batteries are a frontier technology ready to address this challenge

Zinc-ion batteries are suitable for stationary applications, such as renewable energy generation, energy grid upgrade deferrals, and backup power, and its modular nature facilitates integration into existing systems and combining zinc-ion with various power sources in a managed energy system. Modular zinc-ion storage can readily scale up to match an installation's rising capacity needs and has the versatility to address a wide range of needs from single buildings to entire municipal networks. Moreover, zinc-ion batteries are made of abundant raw materials like zinc, which circumvents concentrated supply-chain issues that plague the current stationary battery industry. 

Zinc is produced in more than 60 countries, increasing the potential for localised sourcing. With the ability to provide locally sourced storage solutions, we also enable efficient decentralised systems that can reduce transmission losses and empower communities to have more control over their energy production and consumption.

Additionally, zinc-ion batteries are water-based, having no thermal runaway and no risk of explosion, thus mitigating the safety risk and allowing for expanded applications. Other than the applications where safety is paramount for technical reasons, safe batteries can also gain greater acceptance for energy storage in high-density urban environments and batteries for other public services.

The opportunity is too great to pass up.

The road ahead

Having a variety of energy storage technologies can create economic opportunities and a broader range of employment possibilities. This can lead to growth and stability in regions involved in the development, manufacturing, and maintenance of diverse energy storage systems. 

All innovators and stakeholders – automakers, tech giants, battery startups, raw material suppliers, and policymakers – must work towards the goal of exponentially scaling batteries in order to better mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. This entails harmonising policies, pooling R&D efforts, coordinating widespread standard testing, and responsible manufacturing principles.

Within this broader context, next-gen sustainable battery solutions like zinc-ion can augment the work started by lithium-ion, quicken the retirement of fossil fuels from our energy mix, and propel us into the era of electrification. Our climate future depends on ambitious storage goals underpinned by battery diversity. The stakes could not be higher, nor the market conditions more ripe for ushering a diversified set of chemistries onto the global clean energy stage.

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