Batteries: The battery, invented in 1800, has come a long way since its inception, and its development and application have steadily increased. While initially hampered by technological limitations, lead-acid batteries, which were comparatively inefficient, remained the only option for well over a century. However, recent advancements have led to the emergence of new types of batteries, and many more are waiting on the horizon.
These cutting-edge batteries have even opened up new possibilities in areas previously considered impossible and can even be called the drivers of innovation. One of the most significant examples is the automobile industry, where the development of nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries made hybrid and electric vehicles possible. However, this is just the beginning, as advancements in battery technology continue to unlock new uses, and one, in particular, has the potential to play a pivotal role in our power-hungry future.
Fluctuating demand for power
At present, the demand for electricity fluctuates significantly throughout a 24-hour cycle, with a greater demand during daylight hours for industrial usage and lesser demand during nighttime. The electricity demand is also affected by seasonal and weather changes. In the past, when coal-powered plants supplied most of the electricity grid, it was relatively easier to increase or decrease the amount of power by load-shifting them as the heat generated by them could be varied by adjusting the amount of fuel. However, in light of the global shift away from coal-based power generation, renewable energy sources are being explored and implemented at an increasing rate, given their undeniable environmental benefits.
Adding stability to erratic renewable power
The power generated from renewable sources is subject to natural forces beyond our control. Hydroelectric power plants rely on water levels and flows, wind farms are dependent on wind speed and direction, and solar fields only generate electricity during clear days and not at night. Taken together, these factors indicate that our future power supply will be inherently unpredictable. Therefore, scalable energy storage solutions are crucial to supplement the grid, meet fluctuating energy demands, and provide grid stability, flexibility, and resilience. Energy storage can also function as a viable backup power source, which is especially crucial as the demand for power is projected to increase significantly with the widespread adoption of electric vehicles worldwide. As a result, the pressure on the grid is set to intensify. However, recent advancements in battery technology have made it scalable, rendering it suitable for supporting the electrical power grid.
The Lithium-ion batteries of today
As demand for batteries and energy storage continues to soar, it is imperative that we utilize them in an eco-conscious manner to ensure that the adoption of renewable energy sources isn’t meaningless. The primary considerations for batteries are energy density, efficiency, fast charging, scalability, safety, cycle life, and cost. Lithium-ion batteries, the most commonly used battery type today, are rechargeable batteries that employ lithium ions to move between the anode and cathode to generate electrical energy. The energy density of lithium-ion batteries is high, making them efficient, scalable, and long-lasting, all of which contribute to their eco-friendliness. The cost of production is also manageable due to economies of scale. However, lithium-ion batteries aren’t perfect.
• The production of lithium-ion batteries requires the extraction and processing of raw materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, which can have environmental impacts, such as water pollution and land degradation. Furthermore, the production of these batteries requires significant amounts of energy.
• Disposal of lithium-ion batteries has concerns as well as they contain hazardous materials that can pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. The chemicals and metals can leach into soil and water sources, potentially contaminating them and harming wildlife and humans who come into contact with them.
• Additionally, lithium-ion batteries can be a fire hazard if they are damaged or punctured.
Ultimately, the choice of energy storage technology for the electrical grid depends on several factors, including the specific requirements of the application, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. Other important considerations include location, feasibility, and material availability when implementing energy storage systems.
The author is based in Canada and is an authorized Nuclear Operator and owns a sustainable energy firm.
(Views expressed above, solely belong to the author)