Navigant Research Blog

Battery Makers Preparing for Post-Lithium Ion Era

— November 6, 2015

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, we hardly knew ye.

Today’s mass-marketed light duty plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) uniformly rely on batteries with Li-ion chemistries, but advancing the technology will hit an upper limit of performance by the end of the decade. Battery makers that spoke at the late October eCarTec conference in Munich stated that the energy density can be doubled while cutting the cell cost of PEV batteries in half by 2020, but that beyond that, battery makers will need to shift to other technologies.

Energy storage and automotive power electronics company Robert Bosch and automaker Renault both presented similar timelines for the beginning of the phaseout of Li-ion batteries. Li-ion cell prices will come down thanks to efficiencies in volume manufacturing at plants run by companies such as Tesla and LG Chem and reductions in the amounts of precious metals used. According to Navigant Research’s report Advanced Energy Storage for Automotive ApplicationsLi-ion pack prices (which include the battery management systems, cooling systems, electronic controls, and wiring) will continue to decline by 5%-6% annually through the remainder of the decade.

Once manufacturing and raw material costs have been optimized, other technologies such as lithium-air, lithium sulfur, and solid-state batteries will begin to take over as the technologies that will offer increased performance in PEVs, said Dr. Holger Fink, senior vice president of Engineering at Robert Bosch Battery Systems GmbH. Fink said that solid state battery technology is the most likely of the alternative battery technologies to be commercialized in the short term, with lithium sulfur unlikely to be commercially viable until closer to 2030.

Bosch is developing solid state battery technology based on the intellectual property it acquired when the company purchased startup battery company SEEO in September 2015. Fink said the solid-state batteries that Bosch are developing feature lithium metal anodes that have increased storage capacity and replaces a flammable liquid electrolyte with a safer dry polymer. One challenge for solid state batteries is the high minimal operating temperature of at least 80°C, which Fink said the company is focusing on in its research.

According to Navigant Research, and as seen in the chart below, by 2020, the global market for Li-ion batteries in automotive applications will reach $25 billion.

 Total Light Duty Consumer Vehicle Li-ion Battery Revenue by Powertrain Type, World Markets: 2015-2024

John Li-Ion Blog Chart(Source: Navigant Research)

Masato Origuchi, chief battery engineer for EV/HEV at Renault and another speaker at eCarTec, echoed Fink’s comments about the 5-year timeframe for Li-ion battery performance gains peaking. He said that improvements in energy density in Li-ion batteries will be able to provide 200 miles of driving range in battery electric vehicles (BEVs) such as the Nissan LEAF (a Renault-Nissan Alliance partner) by 2020. Origuchi said that further improvements in energy density via other technologies could extend the range of a BEV to 600 km (372 miles) or more.

Disruptive innovations in energy storage and many other automotive technologies often takes years longer than initially expected to gain market share over the incumbents due to higher prices and the cautious nature of automakers. As a result, the market share for Li-ion batteries can be expected to erode slowly, even after better performing technologies are first commercialized.


Utilities Explore Different Approaches to Residential Energy Storage

— August 31, 2015

Residential energy storage systems are anticipated to see exponential growth over the coming decade. The capacity of annual installations worldwide is expected to grow from 562 MWh in 2015 to 38,525 MWh in 2024, according to Navigant Research’s report, Community, Residential, and Commercial Energy Storage. While numerous storage system developers are lining up to begin selling residential batteries, utilities around the world are struggling to determine how to integrate these new distributed energy resources into their networks.

Utilities can receive numerous benefits from residential storage, including deferring investments in distribution grid upgrades and stabilizing circuits with high penetrations of solar PV. Additionally, the use of residential storage in an aggregated virtual power plant configuration helps utilities manage their financial risk by calling on distributed batteries to supply loads at times of peak demand, thus avoiding purchasing costly wholesale energy. Despite these benefits, many utilities are unsure how residential storage can be integrated into their networks. While much uncertainty remains, two major utilities have recently announced pilot projects employing very different business models.

Different Approaches

In August, Australian utility Ergon Energy announced a program with leading vendors SunPower and Sunverge to deploy residential storage systems tied to solar PV (initially in 33 Queensland homes). Through this program, Ergon will own the battery systems located behind the meter in customer homes. The utility claims these 5 kW/12 kWh lithium ion systems paired with a 4.9 kW PV array will supply around 75% of a home’s electricity needs. Participating customers will pay an $89 monthly fee, and Ergon claims they will save at least $200 per year by purchasing much less grid-supplied electricity. This utility-owned approach to residential storage represents one path, while a very different model is being tested across the Pacific.

California utility San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) recently launched a pilot program to encourage homeowners to install residential storage themselves. In contrast to Ergon’s program, SDG&E would like its customers, or third-party vendors, to own the distributed systems. The utility will offer a tiered system of cash incentives and reduced rates that could, when combined with the state’s other incentives, render the storage free to customers. SDG&E envisions a rate that reflects forecasted system and circuit conditions on a day-ahead basis, and through hourly price signals, will incent both charging and discharging activity. Grid operators will then rely on energy stored in these batteries during peak demand, reducing the need to upgrade their equipment, and avoid utilizing more costly conventional generation sources. This approach can greatly improve the overall efficiency of the grid and help address the duck curve issues that arise from the ramping down of distributed solar PV systems during peak demand. A key feature of this model is that outside of peak demand periods, customers can utilize the battery however they want to maximize their consumption of solar energy, reduce demand charges, and ensure they have power during grid outages.

Potential Paths

The economics of both pilot programs will be determined over the next several years and will likely influence other utilities around the world. SDG&E has also proposed a separate pilot project that will deploy utility-owned batteries under its direct control, and it will compare that project’s performance against the tariff-based systems in terms of cost and effectiveness. Key questions for both utilities revolve around opening the residential storage market to additional participants and ensuring optimal benefits for both customers and grid operators. Despite the uncertainty, these pilot programs demonstrate potential paths forward for what is expected to be a massive global industry.


A Better Battery through Better Materials

— August 6, 2015

Through the past decade, primary and secondary battery technology has boomed across all different kinds of applications. Incrementally improving chemistries compounded with decreasing costs have paved the way for a golden age in energy storage across multiple sectors, and developing technologies that create safer, more efficient means of procuring storage will be imperative to successfully integrating renewables on a global scale.

Business owners, manufacturers, and electrochemical scientists are searching for new battery chemistries that can be engineered to serve a multitude of purposes. Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries are widely regarded as one of the best chemistries, and Navigant Research forecasts exponential growth in terms of energy capacity and cell shipments in the next decade. Current Li-ion batteries with cobalt boast approximately 4 times the energy of lead-acid, with specific energy densities anywhere between 80 and 220 Wh/kg and cycle life of 1,000 to 5,000. Though they perform better than traditional storage devices, they typically have electrodes that are subject to rapid degradation at elevated temperatures and electrolytes that have low flash points, which can lead to a significant loss in capacity. Li-ion technology performance is dependent on the rate of intercalated lithium between electrodes, but due to growing demands for lighter and more powerful devices, a need for new materials has emerged as the gateway for a better battery.

New Developments

Researchers in South Korea have developed a solid-state Li-ion technology that utilizes a porous solid electrolyte rather than a traditional liquid. It is said to greatly improve performance and reduce risks due to overheating. The solid nature and material structure enables ions to travel more freely between electrodes, helps regulate cell temperature, and negates the need for separators typically found in batteries. Ion transference rates of the solid electrolyte were recorded to be between 0.7 and 0.8 compared to 0.2 and 0.5 of traditional electrolytes, which could translate to a substantial increase in rate of discharge and energy density. This battery then could be used in applications such as load leveling, frequency regulation, and voltage support for utility-scale energy storage systems. The cells also underwent elevated temperature testing (ranging from 25°C-100°C) over a period of 4 days, resulting in little change in ion conductivity and no instances of thermal runaway.

What makes this innovation valuable is its ability to be integrated with existing lithium technologies as well as next-generation advanced batteries. As lithium sulfur and metal-air increase in manufacturing feasibility and decrease in cost over the years, implementing solid-state electrolytes could position new batteries to provide long-term energy and storage solutions to the residential, commercial, utility and transportation sectors. The transportation sector also could benefit from solid-state battery technology. Currently, companies like Volkswagen and General Motors are interested in and actively investing in solid-state batteries, potentially for their next wave of electric vehicles. Both companies have acquired stakes in different U.S. startup battery companies that specialize in these types of batteries in order to achieve longer driving distances from a single charge. Despite the hurdles, developing functional, cheaper materials for advanced batteries seems to be a priority across the board. Doing so successfully could have transcendental effects on renewable energy.


Regulatory Focus on Air Transit of Li-Ion Batteries Increases

— July 2, 2015

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries have been highly touted for their long lifespan, high discharge rate, and ability to perform effectively in a number of different energy storage applications, which has led to their widespread adoption across the consumer electronics, automotive electrification, and utility grid energy storage sectors. The key factors driving the design and application of Li-ion battery technologies include power capacity, energy capacity, cost, lifespan, and safety. On the cost side, Navigant Research sees the maturation of the automotive and energy storage manufacturing and supply chains creating market forces that are expected to drive costs to new lows. However, the safe transport and use of Li-ion batteries is paramount and must be factored into each step of the manufacture, sale, transport, and use phase of the battery.

Since Li-ion cells are shipped partially charged to maximize their lifespan and reduce the chance of oxidation over time, they are classified as dangerous goods for transport, according to the United Nations (UN) Model Regulation for the Transport of Dangerous Goods.  Further, it has been well-documented that heat generation coupled with metal contamination and poor battery management systems can increase the risk of thermal runaway and fires during the use phase of a Li-ion battery. Whereas design, manufacturing, and quality control improvements have been implemented to reduce these risks during battery use, new scrutiny is being placed on the air transport of partially charged Li-ion cells and battery packs due to combustion risk from extreme temperatures. These developments are creating a challenge for Li-ion battery manufacturers that are considering export strategies due to the increasingly complex set of regulatory challenges facing airline carriers.

For example:

Assessing and Addressing the Risks

To address safety risks during transport and use, scientists at NTT Facilities, Inc. have tested adding a chemical flame retardant called phosphazene to lithium batteries to increase their safety in different applications. Their study has shown that fully charged 200 Ah packs, like those commonly used in portable electronics, did not explode, ignite, or undergo thermal runaway when undergoing significant laboratory testing protocols. Further, larger battery packs were also tested and operated for 400 days in a state of floating charge with positive results and minimal impact to battery capacity.

Though this advancement is still in the early stage of development, the prospect of integrating a material that is commercially available with a high voltage resistance and low cost to further improve safety while balancing costs merits a watchful eye. Whereas battery manufacturers are loath to add materials, those battery manufacturers and energy storage systems integrators looking to ship (or procure) Li-ion batteries from long-distance manufacturing sites will want to track these developments.


Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date


Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Practice, Smart Transportation Program, Utility Innovations

By Author

{"userID":"","pageName":"Advanced Batteries","path":"\/tag\/advanced-batteries","date":"11\/26\/2015"}