The energy market is developing at lightning speed and changing equally rapidly. What seems to be a solution today is by tomorrow already outdated technology and superseded by a better invention. The American chemist John Goodenough won the Nobel Prize last year for his contribution to the development of the lithium-ion battery that powers most electric cars. He is now working on a technology that can be used to produce a battery on the basis of soda. The advantage: It mainly contains cheap raw materials, while the lithium-ion battery requires expensive, scarce raw materials such as (in addition to lithium) manganese, nickel and cobalt.
The Swedish start-up Altris plans to bring the technology, which is being perfected at Uppsala University, to the market next year. The production of a soda battery using sodium, carbon, iron and nitrogen as raw materials can take place in existing factories for lithium batteries without the need for additional investment, says CEO Adam Dahlquist. According to Dahlquist, they only need to replace the formula for the chemical reaction in the batteries. Once Altris has trained the plants’ staff in the production method, they should be able to produce them on a large scale.
A melting silicone battery
Another battery that is also cheap to produce is from the Madrid-based start-up Silbat, which makes batteries from silicon. When charging, the silicone melts. When discharging, it freezes. According to its CEO, Ignacio Luque-Heredia, the battery is not only cheap, but it also lasts many times longer than the lithium-ion battery, which he says has an average life of up to five years. He expects Silbat’s silicon battery to have a life span of 30 years. That would be a real game-changer in the market for electric cars. Currently, anyone who buys an electric car now must take into account the possibility that the battery will not charge as well after a few years. If you then want to sell your car, the question is what will you get in return. With a new generation of batteries that keep on functioning well for 30 years – if all goes according to plan – that will no longer be an issue.
The development of cheap, long-lasting car batteries whose quality does not diminish after many thousands of charges and discharges also offers opportunities for use in local energy networks. These are in fact emerging rapidly, according to CEO Mislav Javor of the German start-up AMPnet. The number of communities of cooperating citizens who invest in sustainable energy generation (by means of solar panels, for example) and who trade in these panels has grown “like crazy” in Germany, according to him. In 2006, he said, there were 86, and by 2015 there were already almost a thousand. Europe has seen the number of energy communities explode to several thousand and in the U.S., investments in energy generation by this kind of civic community amount to $17 billion.
To facilitate production and trade, AMPnet is bringing a platform to the market. It maps the availability, demand, and supply of sustainably generated energy and bills customers.
A skyrocketing number of energy communities
In the near future, energy production will no longer take place centrally, but decentrally: on and in buildings that are required to be CO2 neutral by 2050. The Swedish start-up Power2u is developing a platform for this, with which residents and owners of large buildings can keep track of and distribute their energy production. If there is a drop in the grid capacity because electricity production fails somewhere due to a lack of sun, wind, or for some other reason, large batteries that have stored excess solar energy can supply the grid. And if that is not enough, cars parked in the building can be connected to the grid to supply energy from their batteries – at a good price, of course, which should be optimally determined through the platform using AI. A good idea, but only if the car batteries have a longer life than they do now.
Also interesting – previous installments of this series:
“Stop subsidizing oil companies“
Ocean waves and giant magnifying glasses should facilitate energy transition
Your home can be turned into an energy factory thanks to the energy transition
The Business Booster (TBB) is a grant for start-ups that develop products to generate or use energy without CO2. The TBB is an initiative of EIT InnoEnergy. EIT InnoEnergy is a joint venture of the European Commission and private entrepreneurs to invest in companies that help meet the Paris climate goals of working, living, and being carbon neutral by 2050.