Powering the future

03 February 2020

Batteries are an essential element in the push for a sustainable and low carbon economy. In this series of articles, we look some of the advances that are being made in battery technology.

Muriel Cozier

3 February 2020

Batteries have an important role as energy sources with environmental advantages. They offset the negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels or nuclear-based power; they are also recyclable. These attributes have led to increasing research with the aim of improving battery design and environmental impact, particularly regarding their end of life. In addition, there is a desire to improve battery safety as well as design batteries from more sustainable and less toxic materials.

During the final quarter of 2018 the European Commission published its Science for Environmental policy document: Future Brief – Towards the Battery of the Future. The Brief provides an overview of the technical aspects of battery design and production and highlights how battery technologies are evolving to improve performance. The EU has said that batteries are essential in progressing to a low-carbon economy. But it is vital that in moving towards the low-carbon goal, batteries are integrated into the circular economy and are therefore sustainable. In addition, the EU is looking to become a global leader in sustainable cell and battery manufacturing. The aim is to compete with current manufacturing bases, mainly in Asia.

To support these goals the EU endorsed a Strategic Action Plan on Batteries during 2018. The action plan aims to put Europe on a path towards leadership in the sector and support jobs and growth in the circular economy.

The EU’s plans need to be backed by ongoing R&D in the battery sector. Areas of battery research include improving energy density, which offers benefits for performance and means less material is used. Alternative and sustainable materials are also an important aspect of battery design, as well as extending their lifespan which will help reduce costs. Moving form lithium ion batteries is currently an area of focus for many researchers, driven by a desire to reduce reliance on a limited resource.

The major hurdles for battery design, states the EU’s document, include finding suitable materials for electrodes and electrolytes that will work well together, not compromise battery design, and meet the sustainability criteria now required. The process is trial and error, but progress is being made.

Science for Environment Policy (2018) Towards the battery of the future. Future Brief 20. Brief produced for the European Commission DG Environment by Science Communication Unit UWE, Bristol.

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