Pollution: The Lockdown Effect and the Battery Energy Storage Solution

Published: 28 March 2020 - 7:38 a.m.
By: Baset Asaba

The pandemic infection of COVID-19 led to the lockdown of a considerable number of cities, leading to reduced pollution activity. With the large number of renewable energy sources (RES) employed in the last decades to decarbonise the energy sector, a growing number of energy storage devices have been coupled with RES.

As highlighted by Luke Gear, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx, in the report “Batteries for Stationary Energy Storage 2019-2029” the Li-ion batteries are currently dominating the energy storage sector, while other technologies, such as redox flow batteries, are also slowly acquiring their share of the energy storage market, As described in the report “Redox Flow Batteries 2020-2030”.

Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite reveals the decline of air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide emissions over Po valley in the north of Italy.

Li-ion batteries (LIB), since their introduction to the market in 1991, have started to be adopted in a wide range of applications, from the energy storage sector to the automotive, to power electronics like smartphones and tablets.

The great advantage of LIB is given by their higher gravimetric and volumetric energy densities compared to other battery technologies. The high energy content is given by the rocking chair principle of the Lithium ions.

The charge battery stores Li-ions into the negative (anode) electrode, usually made of carbon material. During the discharge of the battery, the anode material releases ‘n’ electrons in the external electrical circuit, together with ‘n’ Li-ions which are instead released into the electrolyte.

Simultaneously, the cathode electrode accepts ‘n’ electrons, together with ‘n’ Li-ions. During the discharge process, the positive and negative electrode reactions are reversed.

Besides the simple working mechanism, a constant study is required to improve the performances and safety of this technology, together with reducing the cost by adopting low-cost materials.

While initially a cobalt base cathode material was employed, its high cost pushed for the adoption of low-cost materials such as aluminium and nickel and silicon. While the adoption of low-cost materials affects the cost of the battery itself, the large market of Li-ion battery has a strong influence on the economic status of entire countries.

A complete analysis of raw materials for LIB is provided by Dr Alex Holland in the report “The Li-Ion Battery Supply Chain 2020-2030”, together with a cost analysis and the demand forecast for the period 2020-2030.

Besides the constant research of cheaper and more performant materials, the complex system of lithium-ion batteries made of electrodes, thermal management systems, and battery management systems is constantly being improved.

The report “Li-ion Batteries 2018-2028” analyses all aspects of Li-ion batteries, from the electrode’s components to the battery management system (or BMS), cell design, and the battery production methods. Moreover, their applications and second-life battery are also described. In conclusion, the price forecast and cost analysis are provided.

Besides the efforts to improve the LIB’s performances, this technology still presents severe safety issues, as demonstrated by the large number of batteries which caught fire all over the world.

Because of the high volatile property of the organic electrolyte employed, it can ignite in the case that the battery reaches higher temperatures.

This is why the thermal management of the battery is a crucial part of the battery system. The thermal management is particularly important in applications where the battery performances are highly stressed, like in the automotive applications.

On this topic, the “Thermal Management for Electric Vehicles 2020-2030”, describes all the aspects and materials related to the battery thermal management.

Because of the safety problem, and the battery’s degradation over cycles which limits the cycle life of the device, Li-ion batteries are not the best solution for stationary energy.

Instead, a different type of battery called Redox Flow Battery (RFB), currently emerging in the energy storage scenario, presents better features for stationary storage applications.

RFBs are characterised by a long lifetime (up to 30,000 cycles), easily recyclable and safer materials, and decoupled energy and power capacity. These properties make RFBs an ideal candidate for stationary energy storage application.

As described in the report “Redox Flow Batteries 2020-2030: Forecasts, Challenges, Opportunities”, the flow batteries, with the most commercialised vanadium flow battery, are slowly acquiring their share of the stationary energy storage market.

Vanadium flow batteries (VRFBs) are the most commercialised type of RFBs. Besides VRFBS, other types of flow batteries are currently being commercialised, like zinc/bromine and all-iron flow batteries. Moreover, other technologies like hydrogen/bromine, and organic redox flow batteries are still in their early stages.

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