The Battery Series
Part 5: The Future of Battery Technology
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand, and future applications.
The Future of Battery Technology
This is the last installment of the Battery Series. For a recap of what has been covered so far, see the evolution of battery technology, the energy problem in context, the reasons behind the surge in lithium-ion demand, and the critical materials needed to make lithium-ion batteries.
There’s no doubt that the lithium-ion battery has been an important catalyst for the green revolution, but there is still much work to be done for a full switch to renewable energy.
The battery technology of the future could:
- Make electric cars a no-brainer choice for any driver.
- Make grid-scale energy storage solutions cheap and efficient.
- Make a full switch to renewable energy more feasible.
Right now, scientists see many upcoming battery innovations that have the promise to do this. However, the road to commercialization is long, arduous, and filled with many unexpected obstacles.
The Near-Term: Improving the Li-Ion
For the foreseeable future, the improvement of battery technology relies on modifications being made to already-existing lithium-ion technology. In fact, experts estimate that lithium-ions will continue to increase capacity by 6-7% annually for a number of years.
Here’s what’s driving those advances:
Tesla has already made significant advances in battery design and production through its Gigafactory:
- Better engineering and manufacturing processes.
- Wider and longer cell design allows more materials packaged into each cell.
- New battery cooling system allows to fit more cells into battery pack.
Most of the recent advances in lithium-ion energy density have come from manipulating the relative quantities of cobalt, aluminum, manganese, and nickel in the cathodes. By 2020, 75% of batteries are expected to contain cobalt in some capacity.
For scientists, its about finding the materials and crystal structures that can store the maximum amount of ions. The next generation of cathodes may be born from lithium-rich layered oxide materials (LLOs) or similar approaches, such as the nickel-rich variety.
While most lithium-ion progress to date has come from cathode tinkering, the biggest advances might happen in the anode.
Current graphite anodes can only store one lithium atom for every six carbon atoms – but silicon anodes could store 4.4 lithium atoms for every one silicon atom. That’s a theoretical 10x increase in capacity!
However, the problem with this is well-documented. When silicon houses these lithium ions, it ends up bloating in size up to 400%. This volume change can cause irreversible damage to the anode, making the battery unusable.
To get around this, scientists are looking at a few different solutions.
1. Encasing silicon in a graphene “cage” to prevent cracking after expansion.
2. Using silicon nanowires, which can better handle the volume change.
3. Adding silicon in tiny amounts using existing manufacturing processes – Tesla is rumored to already be doing this.
Lastly, a final improvement that is being worked on for the lithium-ion battery is to use a solid-state setup, rather than having liquid electrolytes enabling the ion transfer. This design could increase energy density in the future, but it still has some problems to resolve first, such as ions moving too slowing through the solid electrolyte.
The Long-Term: Beyond the Lithium-ion
Here are some new innovations in the pipeline that could help enable the future of battery technology:
Cathode: Porous carbon (Oxygen)
Promise: 10x greater energy density than Li-ion
Problems: Air is not pure enough and would need to be filtered. Lithium and oxygen form peroxide films that produce a barrier, ultimately killing storage capacity. Cycle life is only 50 cycles in lab tests.
Variations: Scientists also trying aluminum-air and sodium-air batteries as well.
Cathode: Sulphur, Carbon
Promise: Lighter, cheaper, and more powerful than li-ion
Problems: Volume expansion of up to 80%, causing mechanical stress. Unwanted reactions with electrolytes. Poor conductivity and poor stability at higher temperatures.
Variations: Many different variations exist, including using graphite/graphene, and silicon in the chemistry.
Vanadium Flow Batteries
Promise: Using vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy at scale. Can be expanded simply by using larger electrolyte tanks.
Problems: Poor energy-to-volume ratio. Very heavy; must be used in stationary applications.
Variations: Scientists are experimenting with other flow battery chemistries as well, such as zinc-bromine.
Battery Series: Conclusion
While the future of battery technology is very exciting, for the near and medium terms, scientists are mainly focused on improving the already-commercialized lithium-ion.
What does the battery market look like 15 to 20 years from now? It’s ultimately hard to say. However, it’s likely that some of these new technologies above will help in leading the charge to a 100% renewable future.
Thanks for taking a look at The Battery Series.
Visualizing the Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production
How much oil, coal, and natural gas do we extract each year? See the scale of annual fossil fuel production in perspective.
The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production
Fossil fuels have been our predominant source of energy for over a century, and the world still extracts and consumes a colossal amount of coal, oil, and gas every year.
This infographic visualizes the volume of global fossil fuel production in 2021 using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
The Facts on Fossil Fuels
In 2021, the world produced around 8 billion tonnes of coal, 4 billion tonnes of oil, and over 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
Most of the coal is used to generate electricity for our homes and offices and has a key role in steel production. Similarly, natural gas is a large source of electricity and heat for industries and buildings. Oil is primarily used by the transportation sector, in addition to petrochemical manufacturing, heating, and other end uses.
Here’s a full breakdown of coal, oil, and gas production by country in 2021.
If all the coal produced in 2021 were arranged in a cube, it would measure 2,141 meters (2.1km) on each side—more than 2.5 times the height of the world’s tallest building.
China produced 50% or more than four billion tonnes of the world’s coal in 2021. It’s also the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 54% of coal consumption in 2021.
|Rank||Country||2021 Coal Production|
|% of Total|
|#7||🇿🇦 South Africa||234.5||3%|
India is both the second largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, followed by Australia.
In the West, U.S. coal production was down 47% as compared to 2011 levels, and the descent is likely to continue with the clean energy transition.
In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.
|Rank||Country||2021 Oil Production |
|% of Total|
|#3||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||515.0||12%|
OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, made up the largest share of production at 35% or 1.5 billion tonnes of oil.
U.S. oil production has seen significant growth since 2010. In 2021, the U.S. extracted 711 million tonnes of oil, more than double the 333 million tonnes produced in 2010.
Natural Gas Production
The world produced 4,036 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2021. The above graphic converts that into an equivalent of seven billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to visualize it on the same scale as oil and gas.
Here are the top 10 producers of natural gas in 2021:
|Rank||Country||2021 Natural Gas Production |
|% of Total|
|#8||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||117.3||3%|
The U.S. was the largest producer, with Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 47% of its gas production. The U.S. electric power and industrial sectors account for around one-third of domestic natural gas consumption.
Russia, the next-largest producer, was the biggest exporter of gas in 2021. It exported an estimated 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas via pipelines to Europe and China. Around 80% of Russian natural gas comes from operations in the Arctic region.
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