Battery storage: Not all lithium is the same… and it’s not all about lithium
If you haven’t lived under a rock, you probably know that battery storage is an ever-growing sector where mining companies dealing with key raw materials feel hot and concerned.
The growth will be used by the increased demand for batteries in electric vehicles (EV) and stationary storage.
In his Global EV Outlook 2020The International Energy Agency found that in the scenario of the guidelines given, which takes into account existing government guidelines, the global EV battery capacity will increase from around 170 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year to 1.5 terawatt hours (TWh) per year in 2030 .
In the context of the sustainable development scenario, which is fully compatible with the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the rise in the global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, this value rises to 3 TWh.
Stationary use is also expected to increase, as IDTechEx estimates an average annual growth rate of 38 percent between 2021 and 2031 on a cumulative installed energy capacity of more than 1 TWh.
This is due to the need to put in place energy storage systems to ensure that electricity is always available to consumers as renewables make up a larger part of the energy mix.
Lithium battery storage technology
No discussion of battery storage can avoid delving into the different types of batteries that are currently used and developed.
Lithium cobalt oxide batteries (LCO) – also the original lithium ion chemistry – have a cobalt oxide cathode and a graphite carbon anode, which gives them a high specific energy that makes them popular for cell phones, laptops and digital cameras .
However, this chemistry has a relatively short lifespan (that is why your phone’s battery always seems to lose capacity so quickly), poor thermal stability, and limited load capacity or specific power.
Meanwhile, lithium manganese oxide (LMO) offers high thermal stability, increased safety, fast charging and discharging, although both cycle and calendar lifetimes are limited.
While its capacity is about a third less than that of lithium cobalt oxide, it is often mixed with lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) to improve specific energy and extend lifespan.
This combination is often used for electric vehicles, with the former providing the initial thrust when accelerating while the latter is responsible for long range.
NMC itself is preferred for power tools, e-bikes, and other electric drives, although its exact properties may vary depending on the mix of nickel and manganese used.
The popularity of battery storage is growing thanks to the balance between lower cost and good performance.
Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) offers high amperage, long service life, good thermal stability and increased safety.
However, it has a lower specific energy compared to LCO and a higher self-discharge compared to other lithium batteries.
Other lithium-based chemicals include lithium-nickel-cobalt-alumina and lithium titanate along with solid state lithium ions and lithium sulfur.
Vanadium, sodium and everything else
Lithium batteries aren’t the only game in town.
Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB) have been available for some time and are generally considered to be safer, more scalable, and more durable than their lithium counterparts.
However, the need for electrolyte storage tanks means that they are bulky and have a poor energy-to-volume ratio, making them suitable only for stationary applications.
VRFBs have already been used in large network battery storage systems.
Zinc-air fuel cells use zinc and oxygen to store energy and can be manufactured without rare or expensive materials, while sodium-sulfur batteries are already used in large applications around the world.
Sodium-sulfur batteries last longer than lithium-ion batteries, although there are risks associated with handling sodium (notorious for its reaction with water) and sulfur.
Flouride has also been touted as another alternative to lithium and has the potential to last eight times longer. Recently, however, a liquid electrolyte that can be used at room temperature has been developed.
Australian battery plays
There are a number of Australian companies that are directly involved in the battery storage sector.
Australian Vanadium (ASX: AVL) The VSUN subsidiary develops storage solutions for renewable energies using VRFB technology.
In January 2021, the company reached an agreement with a Chinese manufacturer to appoint a local designer for a prototype residential VRFB for the Australian market.
In addition, VRFBs were ordered from Singapore’s V-Flow Tech for a regional private customer as well as for the Beverley Caravan Park in WA.
Meanwhile, Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) The VSPC subsidiary develops, produces and supplies cathode formulations for lithium-ion batteries and other high-purity high-performance metal oxides.
This includes the recent development of lithium ferrophosphate cathode powders.
The company also has a 50 percent stake in Soluna Australia, which manufactures battery storage systems for residential and industrial applications.
Redflow (ASX: RFX) is a developer of zinc-bromine flow batteries with a daily deep discharge capacity of 100 percent and a high energy density compared to lead-acid batteries.
The company has already sold a 60-battery system to a WA-based supplier of storage feed, showing how the large-scale battery design can be adapted to meet larger industrial requirements.
While just a little too big to be considered a little cap, Novonix (ASX: NVX) provides development, equipment and services for lithium-ion battery material in more than 14 countries.
In February, the company partnered with Emera Technologies to develop and manufacture energy storage systems that target market opportunities in North America.
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