Achieving net zero by 2050 is the ultimate goal of the ongoing energy transition and battery storage is expected to play a key role in this strategy to combat climate change.

There are two areas where batteries are essential, powering electric vehicles which are really starting to gain traction over their fossil fuel burning counterparts, and to provide baseload power and grid stability for the electricity grid.

In the European Union alone, the share of battery electric vehicles (BEV) is expected to climb from 9.8% in 2021 to 67.9% in 2030, while Woodmac forecasted in April that European grid-scale energy storage capacity will expand 20 fold by 2031.

Even in Australia where BEV adoption remains well behind the EU, sales could still triple this year over 2021’s figures with a report commissioned by Plenti noting that they have achieved price parity due to lower lifetime running costs.

Small wonder then that Grand View Research has forecast that the global lithium-ion battery market, which makes up the vast majority of batteries, would expand at a compound annual growth rate of 18.1% from 2022 to 2030, reaching a value of US$182.53bn at the end of that period.

Lithium still wearing the energy storage crown

Barring any major upsets, the vast majority of these batteries – particularly those found in BEVs – will use one of the many lithium battery chemistries that are out in the market.

Here’s a sampling of the most common types.

Lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) batteries – also the original lithium-ion chemistry – have a cobalt oxide cathode and a graphite carbon anode, giving it a high specific energy that makes it popular for mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras.

However, this chemistry has a relatively short life span (hence why your phone battery always seems to lose capacity so quickly), low thermal stability (burning phones anyone?) and limited load capability or specific power.

Meanwhile, lithium manganese oxide (LMO) offers high thermal stability, enhanced safety, fast charging and discharge though both cycle and calendar life are limited.

While its capacity is about a third less than lithium cobalt oxide, it often blended with lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) to improve specific energy and prolong the lifespan.

This combination is often used for electric vehicles with the former providing the initial boost used during acceleration while the latter is responsible for long driving range.

NMC itself is favoured for power tools, e-bikes and other electric powertrains though its exact properties can vary depending on the mix of nickel and manganese used.

Its popularity in battery storage use is increasing thanks to its balance of lower cost and good performance.

However, the winner of the lithium chemistry war might well be lithium iron phosphate (LFP) which offers high current rating, long cycle life, good thermal stability and enhanced safety without the need for any cobalt.

Recent improvements have also addressed their issues with lower energy density, meaning that they are now far more competitive with other battery chemistries.

These improvements have led UBS analysts to forecast the LFP batteries would make up 40% of the global battery market by 2030.

However, the massive expected uptake in lithium-ion batteries of all types has many questioning if there is sufficient supply.

The International Energy Agency has flagged that the world could face lithium shortages by 2025 while S&P Global forecast a minimum 220,000t gap in demand even if every current lithium project around the world was to come online by 2030.

Additionally, the Cobalt Institute has warned the cobalt market will shift into deficit from 2024.

This expected shortage has also brought battery recycling to the forefront.

Other battery types

With BEVs likely to consumer the vast majority of lithium batteries, companies looking to back up renewable energy like solar and wind could well be forced to look at other types of batteries.

For the purposes of this article, we will exclude more exotic or situational sources of energy storage such sand silos, molten salt or pumped hydro in favour of technologies that are expressively considered to be batteries.

Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB) have been available for some time now and are generally considered to be safer, more scalable and longer lasting than their lithium counterparts.

However, the need for vanadium electrolyte storage tanks means they are bulky and have a poor energy-to-volume ratio, making them suitable only for stationary applications.

VRFBs have already seen use in large-scale, grid battery storage systems.

Zinc-bromine flow batteries are similar though it differs in several key ways with zinc metal plating the anode while the cathode terminal contains bromine in a solution.

Sodium-sulphur batteries have longer lifespans than lithium-ion batteries though there are risks involved with handling both sodium (infamous for its reaction with water) and sulphur.

Flouride has also been touted as another alternative to lithium and has the potential for much greater storage capacity. However, it is only recently that a liquid electrolyte has been developed that is usable at room temperatures as not many materials are known to conduct fluoride ions.

Other types include sodium ion, aluminium ion and even batteries that use carbon sourced from trees, though this appears to be a replacement for graphite.

Australian battery companies

While Australia tends to be associated more with the extraction of battery metals rather than developing and building batteries, there are nonetheless a number of companies which are involved directly in the battery storage sector.

Australian Vanadium’s (ASX:AVL) VSUN subsidiary develops renewable energy storage solutions using VRFB technology.

In May, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with North Harbour Clean Energy to collaborate on the development and installation of VFRB projects and vanadium electrolyte.

It is also conducting a trial with Western Australia’s Water Corporation with a 5 kilowatt VRFB being used on at the latter’s Innovation Hub in Shenton Park for use with a water purification unit and is also building a vanadium electrolyte plant in Kwinana which is partly funded by the state government to the tune of $3.69m.

Additionally, Australian Vanadium is installing standalone power system (SPS) based around a 300kWh VRFB from E22 at IGO’s nickel operations.

The SPS is designed to provide a 100% renewable energy supply for much of the year for a bore field, with periods of long cloud cover being supported by a diesel generator, and can be redeployed for use on multiple mines sites and locations over its 20+ year service life.

Meanwhile, Lithium Australia’s (ASX:LIT) VSPC subsidiary designs, manufactures and supplies cathode formulations for the lithium-ion batteries and other high-purity, high-performance metal oxides.

It recently appointed Lycopodium Minerals to provide engineering support services for definitive feasibility study into a potential lithium ferro phosphate (’LFP‘) cathode powder manufacturing facility.

The DFS program is progressing well with activities expanded to include early-stage LFP production, to support the final stages of product pre-qualification.

Customer offtake discussions are advancing in parallel with the DFS.

The company is also progressing its Envirostream battery recycling business which recently received its first cash rebate from the B-cycle Scheme for collecting, sorting and recycling end-of-life batteries.

Commercial development is continuing to increase collection volumes and a long-term offtake partner for mixed metal dust product while trials have been undertaken for a number of EV and energy storage system manufacturers in Australia to recycle their cells and report back findings.

Redflow (ASX:RFX) and its zinc bromine flow batteries have been on a tear recently.

The company recently delivered 18 of its batteries with 180kWh of energy storage capacity to the Bureau of Meteorology who will use them on three weather radar sites in regional NSW.

It has also reached a commercial sale to supply 56 of its new Gen3 batteries that will power the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, which is being reconstructed.

The new Gen3 ZBM batteries features advancements over the previous Gen2.5 battery such as a new stack design, updated electronics with increased functionality, and a new tank design and cooling system while being smaller and simpler.

Li-S Energy (ASX:LIS) is focused on delivering its new generation lithium-sulphur batteries that promise to be lighter, safer, faster charging and made from more environmentally friendly raw materials than traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Recent testing of its batteries in a drone revealed that they had 2.2 times more gravimetric energy density compared to the original battery cells.

Research and development is also ongoing to further scale-up the size of its batteries while a terms were agreed for a new production facility that will allow the company to produce thousands of cells for use trials by major global product OEMs.

The company’s research has not gone unnoticed. As a cornerstone partner in the Recycling and Renewable Energy Commercialisation Hub (REACH) at Deakin University, it received $5m in co-investment over the next four years from the Federal Government’s Trailblazer University program.