A New Roadmap for Advanced Lead Batteries

A research consortium hatches a plan to develop the next generation of lead batteries for grid-scale energy storage

Photo: Lynne Peskoe-Yang
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Last week, members of the Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI) gathered in Shanghai to chat about rare earth alloys, obscure methods of lead recycling, and the future of energy storage. The engineers, industrialists, and academic scientists who made up the 120-odd attendees at the technical workshop are at the center of a global search for technology that could mitigate the effects of climate change.

At the CBI’s two-day workshop, the group mapped out a plan to develop a new generation of lead batteries. In terms of dollars per kilowatt-hour of energy, lead batteries are already the most cost-effective energy storage system available. And unlike alternative types of storage, lead batteries are fully recyclable, allowing for minimal waste from their usage.

Still, lead batteries have a significant weakness: they are vulnerable to various types of physical failure, from corrosion to overheating to internal short-circuiting, all of which result from frequent usage.

In Shanghai, the conversation repeatedly returned to the growing demand for reliable grid-scale storage in the push toward renewable energy sources. Alistair Davidson, Director of CBI, predicts that the renewables market “will evolve from short-term energy storage to stabilise the network with the increased use of renewables, to longer term storage to fully exploit intermittent sources such as wind and solar.

This shift will require a massive overhaul of the planet’s energy distribution systems—and lead batteries have an important role to play in that shift.

Based on a detailed analysis of market trends for lead batteries, CBI and its many research partners have now developed a roadmap to guide funding for the next steps in the technology’s advancement. The plan takes into account the future requirements of end users—like electric car companies—and prioritizes developments that will improve battery performance across a wide array of metrics.

The roadmap outlines research objectives designed to build toward several key performance indicators. One such indicator is the prioritization of dynamic charge acceptance—that is, the ability of a battery to accept instantaneous energy during charging—for automotive applications.

The second theme is to extend the cycle life—the number of complete charge/recharge cycles a battery can perform before it starts to degrade—of the newest lead batteries. Extending the cycle life would mean getting more work out of fewer batteries, reducing the total number of batteries necessary to sustain a given application. This improvement will be essential to the energy storage applications on which the growing renewables industry will depend.

Members in attendance at the Shanghai workshop also shared pre-competitive research on more powerful, resilient, and efficient designs for advanced lead batteries. Topics for the presentations from CBI members included the Chinese battery and lead recycling markets; the impact of lead alloys on battery performance; current developments in secondary smelting; and reports on the viability of carbon enhancements for lead batteries.

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