Energy storage is fast gearing up as a major global industry with significant potential economic benefits for countries and regions looking to tap into the growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and utility and home storage for renewables integration.
As such the space is attracting keen interest from governments and industry. New players, such as Elon Musk’s Tesla, are building a business of ‘gigafactories’ around the world. Musk in his characteristically big thinking way has said that 100 gigafactories are required to meet the demand to transition the world to a sustainable energy future.
Clearly any approach with long term potential must be two pronged, with one output focused to drive the supply chain and production but the other research directed to improve the performance of current products with new technologies.
In 2017 the European Commission as part of its drive to secure its place in the battery industry initiated the formation of the European Battery Alliance (EBA), now comprised of more than 250 stakeholders from across the value chain. To achieve this goal of “creating a competitive and sustainable battery cell manufacturing value chain in Europe”, the Alliance has defined no less than 43 ‘actions’, 18 of which are priorities.
However, a new paper from the European Court of Auditors suggests that as the EU is developing this manufacturing capacity later than other leading regions globally, as a ‘second mover’ it may have difficulty in gaining a competitive advantage.
According to the paper, by 2018 the EU accounted for just 3% of global cell manufacturing capacity, compared with 84% in Asia Pacific and 12% in North America.
Storage in Europe
The EBA quotes the battery market in Europe to have a value estimated at up to €250bn annually by 2025 and to be served by up to 20 gigafactories.
In May 2018 the European Commission took a further step with the publication of an action plan supporting the EBA’s measures as part of its e-mobility drive. Among other aims, it seeks to secure access to raw materials, support manufacturing at scale, step up research and innovation and develop the necessary high-level workforce skills.
Notwithstanding these important goals, the briefing paper identifies several challenges to the EU’s ambitions. Among these are the coherency of EU strategy and complexity of research funding but also the levels of both research and deployment of storage technologies.
The paper also notes that the EBA faces the risk of not meeting its objectives due to a focus largely on existing rather than breakthrough technologies. In this context, the main technology currently is lithium-ion while breakthrough technologies include solid state batteries, supercapacitors and hydrogen.
The paper also comments that while new legislation should help to overcome previous obstacles for investors in storage for the power grid, the late and inconsistent deployment of charging infrastructure could delay the widespread take-up of EVs.
The newest of the EU's initiatives is Battery 2030+, which is noted in the briefing paper and presumably contributes to the “complexity of EU research funding”, but it is still something of an unknown quantity.
Batttery 2030+ is among the newest also of the EU’s so-called ‘flagship’ initiatives focussed on future and emerging technologies and comprises a consortium of research centres, universities and industry associations from nine countries. The manifesto published in December 2018 sets the 10-year goal as ultrahigh performance batteries that enable EVs to achieve a driving range similar to traditional vehicles, that can be charged three times faster than today’s technology and that are safer, have longer lifetimes and may be more easily dismantled for recycling.
A detailed roadmap is currently under development, but four research areas have been defined to date – the accelerated discovery and design of battery materials and interfaces, smart sensing and self-healing functionalities, manufacturability and recyclability. These are intended to be chemistry-neutral, i.e. applicable potentially to any battery chemistry, but initially the focus will be on lithium-ion with post lithium-ion technologies emerging in the second half of the period.
“The vision for Battery 2030+ is to invent the batteries of the future, providing European industry with disruptive technologies and a competitive edge across the full value chain,” the manifesto promises.