Energy Storage, Part 3: How electrical vehicles and technological advancements are driving the market

solar plus energy storage system to power Cuttyhunk Island off the coast of Massachusett

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) installed this 1 MWh solar plus energy storage system to power Cuttyhunk Island, located off the coast of Massachusetts Photo by Stephen Coffrin, courtesy of Flicks/U.S. DOE

**This is the third post in a three-part series on energy storage systems.

by Prasanna Srinivasan, Manager, Business Development & Marketing at LORD Corporation

The momentum behind the electric vehicle (EV) market is driving significant focus on energy storage systems (ESS). With the automotive sector taking the lead in technological advancements, it has been enabling options by automating processes and driving down costs.

In particular, EVs enabled further advancement of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and more widespread access to this technology. The energy storage industry has benefitted from the automotive industry, allowing it to leverage the lower battery costs for energy storage with more cost parity using an existing solution.

Cost parity and diverging designs

Cost parity is one of the key factors driving energy storage systems, especially because of its synergy with the EV market. The general consensus in the EV market is that Li-ion batteries are the preferred solution because of their superior energy density. Essentially, more power can be packed into a smaller space. Although Li-ion is the dominant technology for EVs, other technologies will continue to co-exist.

There are still many diverging battery designs and myriad different battery chemistries. EVs are using four of these five commercially established Li-ion chemistries: lithium cobalt oxide (LCO), lithium manganese oxide (LMO), lithium iron phosphate (LFP), and lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC).

Battery chemistries also continue to progress. As developers and researchers in the industry argue that Li-ion batteries are reaching maturation and their theoretical limits, research continues on next-generation technologies such as lithium-sulfur (Li-S).

Game changer for electric and hybrid vehicles

Purdue University researchers are also working on an “instantly rechargeable” battery that could be a game changer for the future of electric and hybrid vehicles. This technology would enable drivers to fill up their electric or hybrid vehicles with fluid electrolytes to re-energize spent battery fluids similar to refueling a gas tank.

Prasanna Srinivasan, Manager, Business Development & Marketing at LORD Corporation

Prasanna Srinivasan

Instead of refining petroleum into gas, spent electrolytes would be reprocessed and fueling stations would dispense a water and ethanol or methanol solution as fluid electrolytes to power vehicles.

The researchers say that the battery fluids or electrolytes that have been expanded, could be collected and taken to a solar farm, wind turbine installation or hydroelectric plant to be recharged. This would be a significant development for the energy storage market, particularly in terms of infrastructure. It could be essentially likened to a “plug-and-play” type solution.

Advancing energy storage

As electric and hybrid vehicle sales continue to gain popularity, advancing energy storage solutions is essential. Looking at energy storage in monetary terms, the market is expected to grow 8 percent a year to $50 billion in 2020. Any gains on the EV side can carry over into other facets of energy storage. Also, research is underway to repurpose EV batteries for ESS.

However, demands for stationary energy storage are different from the EV market. Space and weight are less of a constant than in EV. This, in turn, translates into thermal management, where the requirements and demands are very different. As batteries increase in energy density and the need to achieve cost parity with the grid continues to exist, innovations in thermal management will continue to be developed.

Giving EV batteries a second life

The energy storage market both within the EV sector and outside of it is rapidly growing and creating numerous opportunities. Repurposing EV batteries that have lost the capacity for solar energy creates new opportunities to give these batteries a “second life.”

Although the battery may no longer be suitable for use in an EV, it might be sufficient for energy storage. As the number of EVs on the road continue to increase, the sheer volume of batteries used for them can drive down costs. It also means there will be an increased need for places to charge the batteries, presenting an even greater opportunity for the batteries’ reuse to store solar power. It also extends the overall life of the battery, reduces costs for stationary storage, and it delays recycling.

This is an exciting time as companies develop new technologies and next-generation solutions in efforts to optimize solutions and decrease costs. It’s also the time to get involved in the design process – to collaborate and be part of developing solutions.

Advancing thermal management solutions

At LORD, we continue to advance our thermal management solutions, which complement energy storage solutions. We already know that proper application of thermally conductive materials will improve motor power density (for a white paper on this topic, click here), but there is so much more to be developed and discovered.

What ideas do you have for the next generation of energy storage solutions overall and within the EV market? What thermal management solutions do you think will be needed to further advance energy storage? What do you think the future holds for energy storage? Let us know here.

For more on energy storage, see the other posts in this series:

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