Batteries were always at the heart of Europe’s zero-carbon ambitions and the green recovery plans have added impetus to the drive for strategic autonomy across a range of important technologies.
At a recent meeting of the European Parliament, research and innovation were described as being of paramount importance to the achievement of Europe’s post-virus recovery by the Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE).
Research and innovation
Research and innovation in batteries in Europe has a long history, but one which is steadily continuing, with support from governments, the Commission, industry and academia.
As ambitious targets are set for the decarbonisation and electrification of society, demand for batteries will only continue to grow. With a predicted 400,000 MWh of battery storage needed by 20251, all batteries will be essential to ensure the success of a clean energy future. The Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI) has identified research and innovation in advanced lead batteries as vital to support this transition.
As a pre-competitive research organisation, CBI’s mission is to be a tool for technology transfer for the global lead battery industry, comprising battery manufacturers, recyclers, materials suppliers, research institutes and universities. The central role of research in our mission allows lead batteries to be utilised for a wide range of applications to usher in the greater levels of electrification and decarbonisation needed to achieve a climate-neutral Europe.
A technology which has existed for 150 years, the lead batteries of today demonstrate vast performance improvements from earlier technology. And that is a message being carried by the EU-wide Charge the Future campaign, which demonstrates how this mature technology remains an essential part of the energy storage landscape with innovation driving continuous performance improvements.
The past 10 years have seen significant increases in the lifetime for utility grid and renewable energy applications. High-performance, low acquisition cost per kWh, paired with high recyclability of almost 100% in Europe means lead batteries are a fantastic option for energy storage systems.
From lead batteries utilised in carbon-emission reducing start-stop technology such as enhanced flooded batteries (EFB) and absorptive glass mat (AGM), to the UltraBattery®, bipolar lead batteries and lead-carbon batteries, the advancements in lead battery technology to deliver high-performing, reliable energy storage is an exciting area of research in Europe.
CBI’s technical roadmap for innovation identified two key areas for improvement for lead batteries for the energy storage and automotive sectors. Improving cycle life to 5,000 cycles and improving dynamic charge acceptance to 2 Amps/Ah by 2022 will help lead battery technology to continue delivering in applications which are essential for society.
Cycle life, which is the number of charge/discharge cycles a battery can perform before losing performance ability, is a key technical parameter for energy storage applications. Across Europe, lead batteries are powering reliable, sustainable storage projects for utility and renewable energy installations. By focusing our new research programme on utility grid storage, we recognise that energy storage holds the key to a clean energy future.
As demand continues to soar, CBI is an example of an organisation undertaking research into maximising the performance of lead batteries in these applications, partnering with European-based organisations. One of CBI’s research projects is using neutron diffraction for the first time in lead battery research, where batteries are being studied in-situ to deliver insights into performance.
Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme has also offered exciting opportunities for battery research, with CBI coordinating a proposal bringing together a wide range of partners to conduct investigations into new battery architectures using high-brilliance synchrotron x-rays. The aim is to develop improved batteries whilst retaining reliability, safety and recycling benefits that set lead batteries apart.
But the research does not stop there. To achieve a complete energy transition, clean mobility must be one of the central pillars. Representing a fusion between clean energy and clean mobility, CBI is working with OEMs and academia to optimise the use of carbon materials to enhance battery performance, and pioneering work in the U.S. pairing EV charging stations with lead battery energy storage is an exciting prospect to explore in Europe.
All batteries will be essential for Europe’s future, and policies which foster research and innovation into Europe’s diverse battery landscape will be vital for clean energy ambitions.
1 Avicenne-CBI report, 2018.
The EU Battery Alliance: Game-changing technologies
Coordinating the Commission’s work on the European Battery Alliance is one of many responsibilities held by Maroš Šefčovič, European Commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight.(1) In May 2020, the Commissioner Šefčovič highlights how the COVID-19 crisis underlines the driving philosophy behind the EU Battery Alliance, “that is the need to bolster Europe’s resilience and strategic autonomy in critical industrial sectors and key, game-changing technologies. Accelerating our work, therefore, makes perfect sense,” he explains.
Šefčovič gave three examples of how the EU Battery Alliance can be built upon. The first concerns electric cars increasingly going mainstream in Europe. The second is that much progress is being made in the lithium industry to become self-sufficient. The third is that Europe has achieved the fastest growth of any region in planned battery production capacity, with plans to reach a global share of more than 14% by 2024, overtaking the U.S. and Asia (not including China, however).
“The Commission will continue to mobilise all industrial actors, Member States and the EIB to not only implement the ongoing investments but also to shift things into a higher gear,” Šefčovič adds. In addition to leveraging investment, Šefčovič calls for setting up a regulatory framework for batteries that is fit for the future and building raw materials resilience as part of Europe’s strategic autonomy. Looking ahead, Šefčovič is optimistic that the EU Battery Alliance will help Europe to rebound stronger and be more resilient.(2)