Since July 2012, when General Electric first opened the doors of its energy storage facility in Schenectady, New York, big claims about the potential for growth in the energy storage market have become common. GE claims that its energy storage business could generate up to $1 billion in revenue annually in just a few years. So what will it take to get there? GE’s activity in 2012 highlights one of the most prominent challenges for advanced batteries: battery operation and lifecycle expectations.
The cornerstone of GE’s energy storage business is the Durathon battery, a sodium metal halide technology that was acquired from Beta R&D in 2007. Five years later, GE opened the Schenectady plant to support the deployment of Durathon units ‑ for which it recently received $65 million in new orders. These revenues appear to be an early return in a market that has significant potential in quite a few different applications. GE’s role in the advanced battery sector, however, is not limited to the Durathon battery; the company has moved to address one of the primary challenges in commercializing advanced batteries: adding intelligent management battery management systems (BMSs). The intelligence behind battery management is crucial for defining the value battery storage can add to each application and for maintaining the health of battery systems. That value, in turn, will define the return on investment (ROI) for advanced batteries, which to date remains rather ambiguous for many applications. Through in-house R&D on components and external software partnerships, GE is working to advance intelligent battery management to drive better battery operations that can ultimately enhance the value delivered by battery systems and thus higher returns for end-users.
In-house, GE Global Research is conducting research on small sensors for advanced batteries, which can be embedded in the system to monitor the health of cells, collect operational data, and trigger a BMS to optimize battery usage. For this research, GE received an ARPA-E grant to continue work in conjunction with the Ford Motor Company. Concurrently, GE has established a partnership with Xtreme Power to deploy the Xtreme Active Control Technology (XACT) management system to enhance the operations and value of the Durathon battery.
Battery technology advances incrementally, and GE has acknowledged that the challenges for advanced batteries are not just in materials science, but in developing tools to assess how these batteries will operate once deployed. GE’s knowledge of power systems and electrical technology, along with its research expertise, brings significant weight to the advancement of battery intelligence, which is critical to developing the business case for advanced batteries.