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Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context

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The Battery Series
Part 2: Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context

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.

Presented by: Nevada Energy Metals, eCobalt Solutions Inc., and Great Lakes Graphite

The Battery Series - Part 1The Battery Series - Part 2The Battery Series - Part 3The Battery Series - Part 4The Battery Series - Part 5

The Battery Series: Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context

The Battery Series - Part 1The Battery Series - Part 2The Battery Series - Part 3The Battery Series - Part 4The Battery Series - Part 5

Our Energy Problem: Putting the Battery in Context

In Part 1, we examined the evolution of battery technology. In this part, we examine what batteries can and cannot do, and the energy problem that humans hope that batteries can help solve.

Batteries enable many important aspects of modern life.

They are portable, quiet, compact, and can start-up with the flick of a switch. Importantly, batteries can also store energy from the sun and wind for future use.

Sponsors
Nevada Energy Metals
eCobalt Solutions Inc.
Great Lakes Graphite

However, batteries also have many limitations that prevent them from taking on an even bigger role in society. They must be recharged, and they hold a limited amount of energy. A single battery cycle is only so long, and after many of them they begin to lose potency.

Therefore, to understand the market for batteries and how it may look in the future, it is essential to understand what a battery can and cannot do.

Energy Density

The biggest difference between batteries and other fuel types is in energy density.

Even the best lithium-ion batteries have a specific energy of about 250 Wh/kg. That is just 2% of the energy density of gasoline, and less than 1% of hydrogen.

While it may be enough to power a car, it’s also magnificent engineering that helps makes this possible. Airplanes, ships, trains, and other large power drains will not be using batteries in powertrains anytime soon.

A Renewable Future?

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind face a similar problem – today’s battery technology cannot store big enough payloads of energy. To balance the load, excess energy must be stored somehow to be used when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Currently, industrial-strength battery systems are not yet fully developed to handle this storage problem on a widespread commercial basis, though progress is being made in many areas. New technologies such as vanadium flow batteries could play an important role in energy storage in the future. But for now, large-scale energy storage batteries are experimental.

Other energy storage technologies may also solve this problem:

  • Chemical storage: Using excess electricity to create hydrogen fuel, which can be stored.
  • Pumped hydro: Using electricity to pump water up to a reservoir, which can be later used to generate hydroelectric power.
  • Compressed air: Using electricity to compress air in deep caverns, which can be released to generate power.

Solving this energy storage problem will pave the way for more use of renewables in the future on a grander scale.

The Sweet Spot

Therefore, the sweet spot for battery use today comes when batteries can take advantage of their best properties. Batteries can be small, portable, charged on the go, and provide energy at the flick of a switch.

It’s why so many rechargeable batteries are used in: electronics, laptops, smartphones, electric cars, power tools, startup motors, and other portable items that can benefit from these traits.

To assess the suitability of a particular type for any specific use, there are 10 major properties worth looking at:

  • High Specific Energy: Specific energy is the total amount of energy stored by a battery. The more energy a battery can store, the longer it can run.
  • High Specific Power: Specific power is the amount of load current drawn from the battery. Without high specific power, a battery cannot be used for the high-drain activities we need
  • Affordable Cost: If the price isn’t right for a particular battery type, it may be worth using an alternative fuel source or battery configuration for economic reasons
  • Long Life: The chemical makeup of batteries isn’t perfect. As a result, they only last for a number of charge/discharge cycles – if that number is low, that means a battery’s use may be limited.
  • High Safety: Batteries are used in consumer goods or for important industrial or government applications – none of these parties want batteries to cause safety issues.
  • Wide Operating Range: Some chemical reactions don’t work well in the cold or heat – that’s why it’s important to have batteries that work in a range of temperatures where it can be useful.
  • No Toxicity: Nickel cadmium batteries are no longer used because of their toxic environmental implications. New batteries to be commercialized must meet stringent standards in these regards.
  • Fast Charging: What good would a smartphone be if it took two full days to recharge? Charge time matters.
  • Low Self-Discharge: All batteries discharge small amounts when left alone over time – the question is how much, and does it make an impact on the usability of the battery?
  • Long Shelf Life: The shelf life of batteries affects the whole supply chain, so it is important that batteries can be usable many years after being manufactured.

There are many pros and cons to consider in choosing a battery type. The more pros that a given battery technology can check off the above list, the more likely it is to be commercially viable.

Now that you know what batteries can and cannot do, we will now look at the rechargeable battery market in Part 3 of the Battery Series.

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Energy

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

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A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

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