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Lithium Battery Market Poised for Growth, Innovation

Lithium Battery Market Poised for Growth, Innovation

Battery power is a significant part of our daily lives, especially because it enables our mobility needs. Energy conservation and storage have thus become an essential social challenge. In recent years, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have moved to the forefront for powering devices ranging from watches, cameras, cell phones, electronics and laptops to larger-scale needs such as drones, electric vehicles and as smart grids.

Compared to traditional lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries provide enhanced energy efficiency, storage capacity and longer lifecycles. Demands from consumer electronics and electric vehicles are creating tremendous growth opportunities for the battery industry in the U.S., especially with the shift toward sustainable clean fuel in the automotive industry. Market opportunities are also emerging in the Asia-Pacific market. Japan, for example, plans to produce half of the world’s batteries by 2020 and offers generous subsidies to homeowners and businesses that install lithium-ion batteries.

In response to these growing needs, the global lithium-ion battery market is expected to expand steadily through 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 11 percent and reaching a total value of more than U.S. $ 77 billion by 2024.

Making Better Batteries

Despite these high-growth expectations, lithium-ion batteries could fade into the sunset in a matter of years. Even though they are superior to other rechargeable battery systems, the storage capacity is still quite limited—for example, smartphone batteries only last a day and electric cars have a range of 200-300 miles before they need recharging. Lithium-ion batteries are also expensive, short-lived and unsuitable for harsh working conditions. And, even though battery prices are starting to drop, battery material costs are going up. Demand is outpacing supply for certain materials—especially for cobalt and nickel, two critical battery materials. Cobalt prices more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, and prices in February were up 133 percent year-over-year, driven largely by battery demand. Some cobalt also comes from less-stable countries, creating supply chain risk as well.

For these reasons, many experts believe that traditional lithium-ion battery technology is nearing its full potential and new types of batteries are required to power our increasingly complex devices. This demand is driving significant R&D into alternative lithium-ion chemistries and storage technologies.

“There’s a worldwide race for these kinds of concepts,” indicates Paul Albertus, program director for ARPA-E, a U.S. Department of Energy program that supports the development of early-stage, high-potential energy technologies and solutions.

Improving Electrode Materials

Considerable research is being conducted on the composition of electrodes; some new materials being developed can triple the energy storage of lithium-ion batteries. Promising new materials are vanadium pentoxide, iron fluoride and lithium-nickel-manganese alloys. Researchers at MIT and University of California-Berkeley have developed a lithium-ion battery that uses manganese as the cathode material, instead of traditional cobalt or nickel, greatly boosting storage capacity and charging speed.

Graphene is a highly conductive, lightweight and easy-to-manufacture material that is being tested as electrode material. A European research team recently produced a composite material of tin oxide nanoparticles enriched with antimony, attached to a base layer of graphene, which adds strength and conductivity to the material. Lithium-ion cells using this material for its electrodes can increase energy density by up to three times and greatly reduce charging time.  

And, in November 2017, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology developed a battery material called “graphene ball” that enables a 45 percent increase in capacity, and a charging speed that is five times faster than standard lithium-ion batteries. “In theory, a battery based on the graphene ball material requires only 12 minutes to fully charge,” Samsung states in a press release. “The battery can also maintain a highly stable 60 degree Celsius temperature, which is particularly key for electric vehicles.”

Unlike cobalt, graphene is relatively inexpensive. “Our research enables synthesis of composite material graphene at an affordable price,” adds Son In-hyuk, a Samsung engineer who led the research project. “At the same time, we were able to enhance the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries in an environment where the markets for mobile devices and electric vehicles is growing rapidly. Our commitment is to continuously explore and develop secondary battery technology in light of these trends.”

A Consumer-Driven Market

Whatever the device—cell phones, laptops or electric vehicles—consumers want greater performance from their lithium-ion batteries, including more power, speed, duration, cooler and safer operation and lower cost. These expectations are increasingly challenging for current lithium-ion batteries to meet, resulting in a surge of battery R&D. As a result, "battery technology is undergoing the biggest disruption in its 150-plus-year history, driven by the need for better solutions in areas such as electric vehicles and renewable power,” states Michael Kolk, partner and head of the global chemicals practice for Arthur D. Little, an international management consulting firm.

Designers, engineers and manufacturers all want smaller, more powerful, longer-lasting batteries, which will help them design more functionality into their products to meet consumer demands and expand market share. Battery companies are working hard to develop batteries that will increase the functionality of our next-generation consumer products, including electric vehicles and portable electronic devices.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray Construction.