Drivers for change: Europe in the race for slashing battery prices

written by Emma Vendola, Imperial College London

Germany is determined to take an active role in the battery manufacturing sector and increase Europe’s share of battery production capacity. Investments for half a billion Euros have been allocated to the Berlin area, where a new battery manufacturing plant will be based.

The need for change towards greener transportation solutions on the political side, and the urge of the German automakers to catch up with Tesla on the electric vehicle market, will be the new driver for a fundamental change not for the automotive sector alone but for the global approach towards energy production and management.

Batteries currently take up a good half of the price of an electric vehicle and a lot of concerns regarding performance and warranties, which inflate the final pack cost figure even more. Among Elon Musk’s objectives in establishing Tesla’s first Gigafactory, there was the necessity to exploit economy of scale by producing more units and streamlining the overall vehicle production line: starting from a lithium and carbon for a single cell and ending with a full vehicle. All done in one place, as it has already started to happen in the Nevada plant for the Model 3 powertrain production.

The German government envisages at least six millions electric cars on the European roads by 2030. At present Europe only produces 2.5% of the global GWh in terms of battery storage, a number that is set to be doubled in the near future. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance the battery prices will plunge at a fast rate; while BNEF has estimated that the global battery manufacturing capacity will be three times greater by 2021, reaching 278 GWh against the current 103 GWh. Electric vehicles will finally be cheaper than conventional vehicles by 2023.

Daimler, which is the recipient of the government’s investments, and the other European OEM have a long way to go in order to meet the European governments expectations and keep Tesla’s pace. While all European car manufacturers have electric cars designs in the pipeline, the Tesla has set the main competition fields: electric trucks and vertical integration of energy production and consumption. Going beyond Gigafactories’ capability of making a whole car from the cells to completion (which Musk is working to reproduce in 4 or 5 new plants), the Tesla has acquired New York based 12-million-square-foot SolarCity, a plant that could fabricate up to 10,000 solar panels per day. This sets the competition to another level: offering Tesla’s customers integrated solutions from solar panels to cars and household appliances, which will be totally independent form the grid and able to power themselves.

In prevision of the future demand form Volkswagen AG and Renault SA groups, other large scale battery factories are being planned in Sweden, Hungary and Poland. Stockholm alone will be host of a 4 billion Euro investment by the NorthVolt AB startup. Moreover, following Musk’s announcement in late 2016 regarding the search for a location of Gigafactory 2 in Europe; France, Finland, Portugal and Spain are competing to be the host of the project. Gigafactory 2 would bring an investment of 5 billion USD and create up to 10,000 jobs.

It has been estimated that joining forces across the Old Continent will cut the pack prices by 43%, enabling electric vehicles to become a competitive product on the automotive market.

Tesla’s CEO ultimate view goes well beyond relegating battery production to the transportation sector; lowering energy storage prices is key for the transition to renewable energies; according to his estimation automakers have the capability to lead the world towards the independence from fossil fuels. In this picture battery production investments form rival companies are all contributing towards Musk’s 100 Gigafactories dream; in which 100 plants of the scale of Gigafactory 1 (100 GWh of battery cells and 150 GWh of battery packs per year) could accommodate the global energy demand.

The global effort in enhancing battery technology and their manufacturing will set the ground for more consistent investments in the deployment of renewable energy technologies and in the research on smart grids, power distribution and grid balance. Nevertheless, the future picture raises new questions on battery management, cell disposal, second life battery usage and lithium supply.



Aluminium battery may triple energy density

A new, ultrafast rechargeable aluminum battery (URABat) was unveiled at the All Energy event in Glasgow, UK.  Research led by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has led to the development of rapid charge, long-life batteries made from low-cost and abundant aluminium.

Aluminium batteries are expected to share the performance characteristics of their Li-ion counterparts but, by using aluminium, the batteries could be cheaper and not constrained by limited resources. By contrast, lithium is a relatively rare metal, requiring expensive mining operations.

Aluminium battery technology may even outperform lithium ion, for example they can withstand 10,000 charge and discharge cycles without degradation. This brings down the costs even further. Aluminium batteries also have high power density, can charge rapidly and are considered to be safer than Li-ion. The flexibility of aluminium provides more freedom in the physical structure of the battery.

The battery uses aluminium electrodes and an aluminium salt electrolyte gel. A graphite membrane, developed by Stanford University, forms part of the design. This design won the silver medal at the prestigious 2017 Edison Award and is being trialled in an electric scooter.

ITRI researcher, Dr Chien-Chih Chiang,  said, “Currently energy densities are around 40 kWh/kg for this aluminium ion battery technology; we expect to boost that to 60-80 kWh/kg before launching the system on a commercial basis.”


Read more here.

Li metal anode that suppresses dendrite formation

US Scientists at Rice University have used a seamless graphene-carbon nanotube (GCNT) electrode to create a rechargeable lithium metal battery with three times the capacity of commercial lithium-ion batteries. It stores lithium metal reversibly and with complete suppression of dendrite formation. Dendrites are lithium deposits that grow into the battery’s electrolyte and can pose a risk of failure, fire or even explosion, if they form a short circuit between the anode and cathode.

In a paper published in the journal ACS Nano, the team led by Dr. James Tour reports that a full battery based on GCNT-Li/sulfurised carbon (SC) exhibits high energy density, high capacity, good cycle stability and is free of Li polysulfides and dendrites that would cause severe capacity fade.

The anode of the Rice battery is a unique hybrid of graphene and carbon nanotubes, with a low density of nanotubes forming a carpet-like surface. This surface provides abundant area for lithium to inhabit and lithium can coat all the way down to the substrate. It can accommodate large amounts of metal homogeneously distributed as a thin coating over CNT bundles. The structure suppresses dendrite formation during reversible cycles of plating and stripping the lithium coating.

Post-Li-ion batteries, such as Li-S and Li-air batteries, require high gravimetric capacity anodes and cathodes. Ideally, during the charging of a battery, the maximum gravimetric capacity would be achieved if Li is deposited on the anode directly as pure Li metal rather than stored in intercalation compounds such as graphite as in Li-ion batteries (LIBs). The theoretical capacity based on lithiated graphite LiC6 is ~ 339 mAh g-1 while pure Li metal can theoretically deliver 3860 mAh g-1 assuming 100% of Li usage in the discharge operation.

This enormous capacity compared to commercial Li-ion anodes explain the revisiting of Li metal after more than 30 years of the first attempts to incorporate this low density metal in high energy density batteries. However, Li metal problematically forms dendrites and related unstable structures during battery operation. This results in low coulombic efficiency (CE) and cycle life and poses serious safety concerns as the dendrites can cause short circuits.

—Raji et al.

Read Rice University press release here
Read ACS Nano paper here (may require subscription)


Innovate UK’s survey on Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Closes at 23.59 on Monday 6th February 2017

As part of the Industrial Strategy outlined in a Green Paper on the 23rd January 2017, a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) will be set up, overseen by Innovate UK and the Research Councils UK (RCUK). The ISCF is a long-term commitment to support Research and Development and the priorities are expected to evolve over time, with further consultations with experts.

In addition to workshops held by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network during January on this, an online survey has been opened, seeking evidence supporting the development of the priority challenge areas set out in the Industrial Strategy. The survey provides those who were unable to attend the workshops with the opportunity to submit evidence, as well as for the workshop attendees to submit additional information.

One of the challenge areas is “Smart, flexible & clean energy technologies (such as storage, including batteries & demand response)“, among others. View the full list here.

The January workshops and the online survey aim to:

  • Develop the evidence base for each of the already identified challenge areas.
  • Identify some of the specific challenges within these areas which would particularly benefit from government intervention.
  • Gather suggestions for further broad challenges, and the evidence for them.


Related news: Government announcement supports storage.

Government announcement supports storage

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced up to £9.6 million of funding for the development of the UK energy storage industry last Wednesday. This will include competition funding for reducing the costs and for feasibility studies for large scale storage projects.

Read the full press release.

In addition, up to £7.6 million will be available for advancing demand-side response technologies and up to £9 million for an “industrial energy efficiency accelerator”. These all form part of the UK Government’s Energy Innovation Programme, 2016 – 2021, implementing the UK’s commitment to the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, when the UK joined Mission Innovation. This global initiative aims to accelerate clean energy investment and innovation, providing reliable and affordable energy for all.

This comes soon after the department opened consultation on their Green Paper on “Building our Industrial Strategy”. The consultation will close on Monday the 17th April 2017 at 11:45 pm. Find out more about this consultation.


There are two opportunities to apply for the £9 million energy storage cost reduction competition:

  • Tranche 1 – Register by Thursday 16th March 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 23rd March 2017; and
  • Tranche 2 – Register by Thursday 1st June 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 8th June 2017.

To apply for the energy storage feasibility study competition:

Register by Thursday 27th April 2017; applications close at 17:00 on Thursday 4th May 2017.

Find out more about the funding programme.

Harvard scientists in energy storage breakthrough with solid metal hydrogen claim

Have a pair of Harvard scientists created the most powerful form of energy storage known to humanity?

Hydrogen hit the headlines this weekend, as Harvard researchers Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera published a paper in Science claiming to have transmuted hydrogen into a solid metal (Observation of the Wigner-Huntington transition to metallic hydrogen). The pair first announced their discovery in October last year, but the full details have not been made available until now and the breakthrough is causing quite a stir.

Researchers have been attempting to produce solid metal hydrogen since it was first theorised in 1935 (E. Wigner, H. B. Huntington, On the possibility of a metallic modification of hydrogen. J. Chem. Phys. 3, 764–770 (1935)). Silva and Dias claim to have at last achieved success by slowly ratcheting up the pressure in a diamond vice to 495 GPa, 50% higher than the pressure in the centre of the Earth. Under these conditions their team observed the material changing from transparent to black to a shiny red; evidence enough for a metallic solid, according to their paper.

There is nothing new in submitting hydrogen to extreme pressure, but Silva and Dias believe they succeeded where others failed by cutting back on high-intensity laser spectroscopy, which can destroy the diamond or the hydrogen it is trained on. Instead they initially used a low intensity laser to avoid damaging the sample:

For fear of diamond failure due to laser illumination and possible heating of the black sample, we only measured the Raman active phonon at the very highest pressure of the experiment (495 GPa) after the sample transformed to metallic hydrogen and reflectance measurements had been made.

The potential for metallic hydrogen could be huge, as it is predicted to be a room-temperature superconductor which could revolutionise materials science. Its potential for storing energy could also be phenomenal. In a previous paper, Silvera suggested that hydrogen compressed to a metal could pack so much energy that it could be ‘The Most Powerful Rocket Fuel Yet to Exist’.

Much of this potential depends on whether or not metallic hydrogen is metastable and would retain its solid form once extreme pressure was released. As it stands, the paper offers no answer to this question. Having reached the critical pressure required to create their sample, the team have not yet modified their set-up for fear of destroying the sample. This has left a lot of questions unanswered – is it really a solid? Is it stable?

Big claims require big evidence, and the team has come in for criticism from several quarters for a lack of follow-through on their experiment. Science’s online announcement of the news gave rise to the kind of heated comments threads usually found on political news reports. Nonetheless, Silver and Dias stand by their results, saying that they wanted to announce the news before a second-round of tests potentially destroy their sample. ‘If people disagree, they should go to measure it and try to show that it’s different than what was claimed’, Silvera suggested.

Teams across the world will undoubtedly be throwing themselves into that very task, so we can expect more news on this subject as the year unfolds. If nothing else, the Harvard group have our attention.

Research towards better anodes for sodium batteries, University of Surrey

Argyrios Karatrantos and Dr. Qiong Cai from the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Surrey, have recently published a paper on the “Effects of pore size and surface charge on Na ion storage in carbon nanopores” in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Physical Chemistry, Chemical Physics.

Sodium (Na) ion batteries are under consideration for grid-scale energy storage, as they may offer a low cost and sustainable alternative to their Li-ion counterparts. The challenge is to achieve similar energy densities and speed of charge/discharge. Porous carbons, currently used in Li ion batteries, make good electrodes, as they are cheap to produce, allow ions to move through them and are conductive. When the mobile ions are Na+, instead of Li+, it is important to understand how these interact with the electrode and particularly to see if changing the structure of the electrode can improve the mobility of Na ions and hence the performance of sodium batteries.

In this paper, the researchers use molecular dynamics simulations to examine how the Na ions behave when confined with carbon nanopores, paying particular attention to the effect of pore size and surface charge density. The operating conditions of sodium ion batteries were simulated and the mobility of the Na ions measured. They found that, through electrostatic interactions, more Na ions enter the pores when the surface charge density is higher, sometimes forming multiple layers. Nanopore width was also found to play a role.

The simulation methodology developed here can be applied more widely to different forms of carbon and different solvents, to help researchers design better anodes and estimate cell performance for sodium ion batteries.

Read the full paper here.

DOI: 10.1039/c6cp04611h

Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust seeks partners in energy trial

Swindon-based sustainable energy charity, Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust is looking to partner with organisations trailing close to market household or community scale energy innovations including technology and/or regulation.

Westmill has a current trial involving 48 households and domestically produced PV, and are exploring a potential site for storage adjacent to a wind farm and a solar park that are both community owned.  The ‘households’ involved in the trial include a pub and the local sports pavilion, and all have smart meters installed.

Westmill is keen to talk with anyone who would have a use for such a group of householders for a future trial, or in the storage site. Interested parties should get in touch with Mike Blanch, a founding board member with Westmill, at

BEIS and Ofgem Call for Evidence: ‘Smart, Flexible Energy System’

Opens: 00:00 on Friday 11th November 2016

Closes: 23:59 on Thursday 12th January 2017

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Ofgem issued their much-awaited Call for Evidence today, as part of their commitment to building a 21st century energy infrastructure, incorporating smart technologies for a flexible energy system.

BEIS and Ofgem have been working together to understand how to manage the transition to a smart, flexible energy system and what steps need to be taken to achieve this. Ofgem published a position paper in September 2015: “Making the electricity system more flexible and delivering the benefits for consumers”, which set out Ofgem’s priority areas to ensure that regulation supports an efficient, flexible energy system. In December 2015, BEIS published “Towards a Smart Energy System”, a report setting out how smart, more flexible energy solutions could help them meet the challenges the UK energy system faces as we seek to power our economy and decarbonise cost-effectively.

A flexible energy system offers significant benefits for consumers and the economy, helping us use energy more flexibly and increasing the efficiency of the whole energy system. Over the period to 2050, studies have shown that a flexible energy system could deliver up to £40bn in cumulative net savings by helping us to build less power generation, turn off generation less when it exceeds demand, avoid the high cost of significantly reinforcing our energy networks and reduce the cost of balancing our energy system in real time. This can help to ensure the UK has a secure, affordable and clean energy system now and in the future, while enabling growth in all parts of the country.

Consumers are at the heart of the development of this system, which can give them choice and control over how they use electricity, including any that they generate themselves. Smart energy technology and processes have the potential to deliver lower bills and new services for consumers.

The call for evidence sets out BEIS’ and Ofgem’s intended approach to realising such a system. They invite your views on how to develop our energy system so that it is smart and flexible, while capturing benefits for consumers and businesses. The responses to this document, as well as wider engagement, will help shape a plan that BEIS and Ofgem expect to publish in spring 2017, setting out the specific actions to be taken to remove barriers, improve price signals, catalyse innovation and shape roles and responsibilities.

Responses to this call for evidence should be submitted on the dedicated online platform from 00:00 on 11/11/2016 until 23:59 on 12/01/2017. For any queries, please email or

Last call: Energy and Climate Change select committee calls for energy storage reform

When the Department for Energy and Climate Change was absorbed into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), one casualty was The Energy and Climate Change select committee. But in their final report before disbanding, the MPs of the committee reiterated the call for regulatory reform in the energy storage field.

Launching the report last week, the Committee Chair Angus MacNeil said,

“The Government needs to tackle the issues making the economics of energy storage and demand side response challenging. We need to learn from California, where strong public financial support and clear legislation have helped develop a storage industry and integrate storage infrastructure into the grid.”

The Committee also put in a plea to not reverse existing energy regulations, which is a real possibility if the UK Government goes through with its Brexit plans.

DECC may be dead in its old form, but at least it leaves behind a clear epitaph – embrace energy storage.

The full report is available at