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 U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports in 2021
This visualization breaks down U.S. oil imports by country for 2021, showing the split by OPEC and non-OPEC nations.
U.S. Petroleum Product and Crude Oil Imports in 2021: Visualized
Energy independence is top of mind for many nations as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted sanctions and bans against Russian coal and crude oil imports.
Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, in 2021 the U.S. still imported more than 3 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, equal to 43% of the country’s consumption.
This visualization uses data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to compare U.S. crude oil and refined product imports with domestic crude oil production, and breaks down which countries the U.S. imported its oil from in 2021.
U.S. Crude Oil Imports, by Country
The U.S. imports more than 8 million barrels of petroleum products a day from other nations, making it the world’s second-largest importer of crude oil behind China.
America’s northern neighbor, Canada, is the largest source of petroleum imports at 1.58 billion barrels in 2021. These made up more than 51% of U.S. petroleum imports, and when counting only crude oil imports, Canada’s share rises to 62%.
|Rank||Country||U.S. Oil Imports (2021, in barrels)||Share|
|#1||🇨🇦 Canada||1,584 million||51.3%|
|#2||🇲🇽 Mexico||259 million||8.4%|
|#3||🇷🇺 Russia||254 million||7.9%|
|#4||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||156 million||5.1%|
|#5||🇨🇴 Colombia||74 million||2.4%|
|#6||🇪🇨 Ecuador||61 million||2.0%|
|#7||🇮🇶 Iraq||57 million||1.9%|
|#8||🇧🇷 Brazil||52 million||1.7%|
|#9||🇰🇷 South Korea||48 million||1.6%|
|#10||🇳🇱 Netherlands||46 million||1.5%|
|#11||🇳🇬 Nigeria||45 million||1.5%|
|Other countries||459 million||14.7%|
The second-largest contributor to U.S. petroleum imports was another neighbor, Mexico, with 259 million barrels imported in 2021—making up a bit more than 8% of U.S. petroleum imports.
Russia was the third-largest exporter of crude oil and petroleum products to the U.S. in 2021, with their 254 million barrels accounting for almost 8% of total imports.
U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Imports from OPEC and OPEC+
Only about 11% of U.S. crude oil and petroleum product imports come from OPEC nations, with another 16.3% coming from OPEC+ members.
While imports from OPEC and OPEC+ members make up more than a quarter of America’s total petroleum imports, this share is fairly small when considering OPEC members currently control nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves.
Which Countries are Part of OPEC and OPEC-Plus?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 13 petroleum producing nations that formed in 1960 to provide steady prices and supply distribution of crude oil and petroleum products.
In 2016, OPEC-plus was formed with additional oil-exporting nations in order to better control global oil supply and markets in response to a deluge of U.S. shale supply hitting the markets at that time.
- 🇮🇷 Iran*
- 🇮🇶 Iraq*
- 🇰🇼 Kuwait*
- 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*
- 🇻🇪 Venezuela*
- 🇩🇿 Algeria
- 🇦🇴 Angola
- 🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea
- 🇬🇦 Gabon
- 🇱🇾 Libya
- 🇳🇬 Nigeria
- 🇨🇩 Republic of the Congo
- 🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
* Founding members
- 🇷🇺 Russia
- 🇲🇽 Mexico
- 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia
- 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
- 🇧🇭 Bahrain
- 🇧🇳 Brunei
- 🇴🇲 Oman
- 🇸🇩 Sudan
- 🇸🇸 South Sudan
Although OPEC and OPEC+ members supply a significant part of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports, America has avoided overdependence on the group by instead building strong ties with neighboring exporters Canada and Mexico.
Crude Oil Imports Capitalize on U.S. Refineries
While the U.S. has been a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products the past two years, exporting 3.15 billion barrels while importing 3.09 billion barrels in 2021, crude oil-only trade tells a different story.
In terms of just crude oil trade, the U.S. was a significant net importer, with 2.23 billion barrels of crude oil imports and only 1.08 billion barrels of crude oil exports. But with the U.S. being the world’s largest crude oil producer, why is this?
As noted earlier, neighboring Canada makes up larger shares of U.S. crude oil imports compared to crude oil and petroleum product imports. Similarly, Mexico reaches 10% of America’s crude oil imports when excluding petroleum products.
Maximizing imports from neighboring countries makes sense on multiple fronts for all parties due to lower transportation costs and risks, and it’s no surprise Canada and Mexico are providing large shares of just crude oil as well. With such a large collection of oil refineries across the border, it’s ultimately more cost-efficient for Canada and Mexico to tap into U.S. oil refining rather than refining domestically.
In turn, Mexico is the largest importer of U.S. produced gasoline and diesel fuel, and Canada is the third-largest importer of American-produced refined petroleum products.
Replacing Russian Crude Oil Imports
While Russia only makes up 8% of American petroleum product imports, their 254 million barrels will need to be replaced as both countries ceased trading soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to curb rising oil and gasoline prices, in March President Joe Biden announced the release of up to 180 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Other IEA nations are also releasing emergency oil reserves in an attempt to curb rising prices at the pump and volatility in the oil market.
While the U.S. and the rest of the world are still managing the short-term solutions to this oil supply gap, the long-term solution is complex and has various moving parts. From ramping up domestic oil production to replacing oil demand with other cleaner energy solutions, oil trade and imports will remain a vital part of America’s energy supply.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar make up 10% of the world’s electricity. Combined, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity after coal, gas, and hydro.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.
This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.
Europe Leads in Wind and Solar
Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.
Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.
|Rank||Top Countries||Solar/Wind Power Share|
|#10||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||25.2%|
From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.
Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals
The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.
Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.
In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.
Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.
Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.
More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.
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