Opportunities in next-generation battery technologies

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Market cornerstones: batteries in three applications
  3. The pace of battery innovation
  4. Companies to watch
  5. Sources and methodology
  6. About Brittany Gibson
  7. About Clint Wheelock

1. Summary

Why battery technology?

Without electricity, today’s connected and mobile lifestyle for individuals and communities would be radically different. Countless consumer electronics, the internet, electrified transportation, and other emerging technologies demand electricity. To meet product demands along with consumer demands for mobility, freedom of information, and freedom of action, storing electricity is increasingly important.

Stored electricity from conventional battery chemistries has powered applications such as lighting and ignition in vehicles or reserve power for large industrial campuses. However, the multifunctional, advanced nature of today’s electric-powered products and systems complicates the relationship between electricity generation and consumption. As the demand for electricity grows, conventional batteries will not be able to meet those needs in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

Consumer electronics, vehicles, and renewable energy are proliferating at the individual, home, and societal levels. Coupled with rising global income levels, this growth is dramatically changing the way individuals and societies consume electricity. As a result, existing battery technologies fall short of market needs in every application, be it in function or cost. The trade-offs among energy, cost, and other variables necessitate a compromise for the consumer as flawless battery chemistries continue to elude the market.

Although advanced battery innovation is now more important and potentially more lucrative than ever, the industry is bound by the laws of physical science and the costs of specialized research and development. Despite inherent risk in this industry, the market garners a significant investment from university, government, and private entities at many points along the development cycle, targeting everything from materials science to marketing to project development. Without attention at each point, advanced batteries will continue to suffer from this industry’s slow pace of development. It remains to be seen whether innovation in this industry can accelerate at any other pace.

Over the next decade the advanced-battery industry will witness broad approaches to technology and project development, targeting a wide variety of end-use products and services. To date significant resources have been allocated by various stakeholders including the United States government, which currently has 39 different battery- and energy-storage-related research programs. These programs are managed by six different agencies, ranging from the Department of Energy to the Department of Defense, and they have invested a rough total of $1.3 billion from 2009 through 2012.

The market potential is also there, and investment in products that are demanded now are driving battery advances. For example, the consumer electronics market — one inherently tied to batteries — is estimated to be worth roughly $206.5 billion in 2012, a record for sales, while Pike Research forecasts the market for grid-scale advanced batteries to reflect nearly $30 billion in investment through 2020. Tapping into this potential depends on the technical and market-focused innovations of a small industry ecosystem, one that faces considerable challenges in R&D and funding.

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