Batteries: Industry heavyweights discuss integrated battery future

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How will batteries change our world? This was the topic of debate at the Royal Institution panel on 13 June, with focus on the new role that batteries could have in future infrastructure and home life. Speakers included: Peter Stephens — Head of UK External and Governmental Affairs at Nissan Motor, GB; Vicky Edmonds — Joint Head of the Office of Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV); Colin Herron — MD of Zero Carbon Futures; Joanna Coleman — Energy Transition Manager at Shell UK.

Both Nissan and Zero Carbon Futures believe that the battery and, by extension the car, will have a much more dominant role to play in consumers’ lives in the coming decades, beyond being simply a method of transport. Stephens and Herron discussed and posited the idea of an interconnected Smartgrid (though this term wasn’t used in the discussions) of batteries present in people’s homes, EV’s and workplaces being capable of self-regulation by drawing power from other connected batteries and diverting it to areas of greater demand. In addition, consumers would have the ability to sell electricity generated themselves back to the grid, or even to neighbours.

In 2018, Nissan partnered with Eaton and The Mobility House to provide 148 second-life lithium-ion batteries, previously used in Nissan leaf vehicles, for a smart energy storage system totalling 3MW at the Johann Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. The system aims to provide the arena with flexible electrical storage capacity, to regulate its own usage based on current power supply and demand, all powered by 4,200 solar panels on the stadium roof. This project shows the direction Nissan and other battery manufacturers are hoping to take the market.

This point was echoed by Joanna Coleman of Shell, pointing to Shell’s recent acquisition of Sonnen, Europe’s largest manufacturer of rechargeable energy storage packs, as an example of its commitment to residential smart energy storage. Sonnen provides homeowners with solar-powered lithium-ion batteries that can be integrated into residential properties.

With OLEV aiming for all new cars sold in the UK to be 0% emission vehicles by 2040 and 50–70% to be ultra low emission by 2030, it has been clear for some time that the UK government wants to take advantage of this new revolution in battery technology. It would seem that Nissan and the UK Government are anticipating a major shift towards an integrated battery grid and wish to be at the forefront of this change.

Roskill View

Future battery growth, underpinned by the burgeoning EV and energy storage sectors, will have a huge impact on the sourcing of battery raw materials as industries such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese and copper rush to expand capacities to meet the rising demand. There is mounting pressure to ensure the sustainability of some of these supply chains in terms of human or environmental impact, with so-called ‘green technologies’ in the USA and Europe often relying on materials soured from Africa, China and other regions with less regulation than those in which the final products are being sold.

Roskill’s NEW Greenfield Battery Raw Material Projects for the 2020s report will be published in June 2019 and discuss the supply chains of the major battery raw materials along with potential new sources of supply.