Battery power is increasingly being recognized as a viable option for sustainable energy storage and electric transportation. Umesh Tiwari, Global Manager for Advanced Materials and an expert in batteries and renewable energies, discusses the current battery landscape, the future of battery technologies, and the solutions Malvern Panalytical can provide.
What are the main challenges and opportunities in the battery market today?
The battery technologies are evolving fast – this presents both an opportunity as well as a challenge. Materials are changing all the time, and new options are constantly being discovered. There is some caution when it comes to investment because people cannot be sure that the product or technology they invest in today will still be relevant tomorrow. That said, the battery market also has a lot of exciting potential. Not only is there growing demand for batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), but there is also an opportunity for companies to improve on current battery standards. At the moment, for example, a single charge can take an electric car 300–400 miles – but new materials show real promise for increasing this range up to 1,000 miles. If companies invest in, patent, and commercialize these solutions, they will reap the benefits of first-mover advantage.
So how does Malvern Panalytical help customers capitalize on these opportunities?
Our customers need powerful tools to test and qualify their battery materials – from the powder and slurry phases to the electrode coating and cell assembly stages. We have numerous technologies to help companies analyze particle size and shape, elemental composition, crystal structure, and more, that directly influence critical parameters such as energy and power density, as well as battery stability.
We are always working to improve our equipment to ensure our customers benefit from cutting-edge solutions. Empyrean, our X-ray diffraction instrument, is a good example. We are currently developing new accessories to make it more powerful than ever – such as features enabling users to analyze battery cells at temperatures from -10˚C to 70˚C. This will be helpful in optimizing the batteries for cold and hot environments.
What do you think is the biggest trend emerging in battery technology right now?
The potential of different chemistries like lithium-sulfur and sodium-ion batteries is looking more and more interesting – but perhaps the most promising direction for the industry is solid-state batteries.
Currently, batteries use a liquid electrolyte, which makes them highly flammable. New technologies are steering us increasingly toward batteries with solid electrolytes, which are a much safer option. In addition, creating a solid-state battery means you can enhance its capacity. And there is more good news: solid electrolytes are compatible with current technologies, which means they can be commercialized faster.
Other emerging trends are cobalt-free cathode chemistry and solid-state electrode coating.
How do you ensure that your solutions live up to the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) expectations that today’s stakeholders demand?
On the governance side, safety is paramount – but for now, batteries are not strongly regulated by governments. Instead, regulation takes place through internal competition: EV manufacturers will only buy reliable batteries from reputable companies, and that puts pressure on battery creators to implement strict quality controls. That, of course, is where Malvern Panalytical can help.
Meanwhile, turning to sustainability, regulations on battery recycling remain in their infancy. There are promising signs, though, that more legislation will be passed demanding proper recycling of old EV batteries.
We certainly believe there is more to be done on battery recycling because old batteries can provide up to 80% of the materials needed for new ones in addition to stopping the proliferation of toxic waste in the environment. We want to help our customers make this happen. Our solutions allow customers to assess a used battery’s particle size (with our Mastersizer 3000 laser diffraction instrument), its elemental composition (with our X-ray fluorescence spectrometers), and, of course, the materials it contains (with our X-ray diffractometers).
Finally, what does the future look like for batteries?
Batteries will most likely share the stage with hydrogen power. It is not a question of one over the other: these two technologies will complement – and to some extent compete with – each other in the energy space.
Europe and China in particular are investing strongly in hydrogen, as the 2050 deadline for becoming carbon neutral draws nearer. Fuel cells can either generate hydrogen from water or convert hydrogen into electricity. As such, in the long term, there is major potential for grid power, heavy industry, and heavy transport to be fed by hydrogen – and Malvern Panalytical has plenty of solutions to help develop hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Batteries, meanwhile, are highly suitable for powering light vehicles, including passenger cars, and mobile devices such as phones and laptops. Complimenting renewable energy solutions – such as solar, wind, or geothermal power – both batteries and hydrogen have a valuable place in the changing energy landscape. After all, we need to make the most of the full range of complementary, renewably sourced energies we have available.
Visit our batteries industry area for more details about batteries, battery materials, and our portfolio of solutions for researchers and manufacturers.