What a difference a decade makes. By the end of the 2010s, battery technology had evolved from powering small, low-risk consumer devices such as smartphones to becoming integral components in vehicles and energy grids around the world.
Falling prices of lithium and other raw materials has combined with faster, more cost-efficient battery production to allow manufacturers to scale up and lower costs. Increased productivity and affordability have helped take global electric vehicle (EV) sales from the thousands into the millions. Meanwhile, advancing manufacturing techniques are unlocking new possibilities for stationary battery energy storage (BES), making renewables a realistic, cost-effective driver of the global energy transition.
But there is more to come. With the 2020s set to be a defining decade for the global energy transition and electric vehicles, we’ve picked out key market trends that will shape the battery industry over the years ahead.
The automotive battery segment leads the way
From California to India and the UK, one by one, governments are stepping up efforts to electrify local vehicle fleets. To encourage consumers, most are using a carrot-and-stick approach that blends subsidies on charging, parking, and other costs with hard deadlines for banning for phasing out combustion engine vehicles.
The automotive sector is playing its part. EV market leader Tesla is growing its network of battery manufacturing sites with a new “gigafactory” in Berlin. ‘Traditional’ vehicle manufacturers also have big plans in the works, with German carmaker Daimler set to spend US$ 755 million on Chinese factory capacity for making electric cars and batteries as part of a US$ 10 billion push to expand its EV fleet.
If all goes to plan, global EV sales are projected to increase tenfold over the coming decade, reaching 21 million units by 2030.
Battery investment goes mainstream
Investors are taking note and backing on Li-ion batteries. In November 2019, a collective of private investors, including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Richard Branson, invested US$ 30 million in ESS, a manufacturer of low-cost, long-duration, iron-flow batteries.
A new production ecosystem is being constructed to support different facets of battery production. In 2016, French energy giant Total bet big on battery manufacturer Saft, spending a cool US$ 1.1 billion. The previous year, Japanese chemical manufacturer Asahi acquired battery separator Polypore for US$ 2.2 billion.
But consumers still need convincing
Converting the battery market’s potential into hard profit is not guaranteed, though. Much will depend on manufacturers being able to make crucial breakthroughs in areas such as cost, reliability, and charging time.
Safety is another major hurdle, with ongoing concerns around Li-ion batteries, in particular. In June 2019, Apple recalled a number of MacBook Pro laptops amid concerns their batteries “may overheat and pose a safety risk”. Less than two years earlier, Samsung recalled 2.5 million units of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone due to similar issues with exploding Li-ion batteries.
While such incidents are few and far between, with battery technology evolving day by day, manufacturers need to work hard to convince customers and end-users that their new innovations meet the highest standards for safety as well as performance.
At Malvern Panalytical, we aim to give battery manufacturers the tools they need to capture the opportunities that lie ahead, with solutions that will enable researchers and developers to meet increasing demands around scale, performance, and safety. Batteries contain a sophisticated material architecture that carefully controls the storage and generation of electricity at the micro- and nanoscale. By measuring materials properties at these scales, our instruments enable scientists and engineers get to the heart of battery processes and safe battery design. The past decade has been a pivotal period in the global battery industry, but clearly there’s much more to come. Watch this space!
Coming up in our Materials Talks series, we’ll also explore the growing issue of battery recycling and sustainability, and how we’re helping manufacturers to address this critical need.
If you would like to discuss how our battery research and manufacturing solutions can add value to your research or production processes, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts or register for the upcoming webinar ‘Studying battery cathode materials using X-ray diffraction‘ on 22 April 2020.