Batteries have been around for a long time, but it is only in the last decade that they have become a key tool in global energy transition and the fight against climate change. An increasingly electrified world needs more efficient and more sustainable batteries. In this Falling Walls Round Table, renowned chemist and Körber Prize winner Clare Grey gives an in-depth look at the state of battery research and at the same time discusses the research policy situation in Europe.
Today, batteries fulfill mostly two roles: They are used for electrification and transport, thus helping to move away from fossil fuels and CO² emissions, and they are used as a high-performance storage medium for renewable energy on the grid. However, traditional battery technology is almost maxed out: “We are reaching the theoretical limits of lithium ion batteries”, says Grey. One of the biggest challenges of battery research is to get “paradigm shifting technologies” on the way.
Battery research should take priority
For Clare Grey, this includes technologies that are not only based on the rare and increasingly expensive lithium, but possibly alternative materials. More research on degradation and ease of recycling is required, so that batteries may last longer. Better monitoring techniques can be used to make it easier to sell and optimize batteries. And instead of bending to “range anxiety” and the desire to produce ever bigger batteries, especially for cars, researchers should instead develop smaller, more sustainable modules.
And there is large-scale storage, the “trillion dollar question”, as Grey puts it. Only if we are able to properly store renewable energy can we decarbonise the global industry at scale. To get there, “we need more mechanisms for long term funding and the ability to think out of the box”, Grey says. The funding of battery research should take political and industry-wide priority, because our lives will become very different in the near future – and much more electrified.