The disappearance of the lead-acid battery has been greatly exaggerated


Following my recent article – Lead-acid batteries are on the verge of extinction – I received an email from Battery Council International (BCI), the trade association for manufacturers, recyclers and suppliers of lead acid batteries. Members directly provide nearly 25,000 jobs in the United States and make a $26.3 billion annual impact to the economy – and have experienced direct employment growth of 20% since 2016.

They were particularly critical of the title, arguing that contrary to my arguments, lead-acid batteries have a bright future. A key point they made in the email was that lead-acid batteries are 99% recyclable, while lithium-ion batteries are recycled at a rate of less than 5%.

So, I asked them if they would like to make those points in an interview. They agreed.

To sum up my point of view, I agree that the issue of recycling needs to be addressed. Certainly, if this cannot be resolved, it would be an advantage in favor of lead-acid batteries.

However, when I look at the trajectory, I see that the price of lithium-ion batteries is steadily dropping, while the price of lead-acid batteries is relatively stagnant. I see lead-acid batteries losing market share – and should continue to lose market share in favor of lithium-ion batteries. Considering the multiple benefits, I don’t see how lead-acid can compete if lithium-ion continues its downward price trend. Indeed, it seems to me that the current trajectory is a path of extinction for lead-acid batteries.

What could change this trajectory? Several things. The cost curve could flatten at a higher price for lithium-ion batteries. Or maybe the recycling problem cannot be solved. Or maybe the global market is growing so fast that lithium ion batteries cannot keep up, in which case lead acid batteries would still be needed for many years to come.

I can see their point of view when I compare the use of lead acid batteries to our use of petroleum. Many people have argued that the use of petroleum is on the way out. I have argued that these projections are far too optimistic, and that while oil may be on that path, it is a very long trajectory that will last for decades. Perhaps the same could be said of lead-acid batteries.

Dr Matt Raiford, Director, answered questions on behalf of BCI. Consortium for battery innovation, the global lead acid battery pre-competitive research consortium supported by BCI. Dr. Raiford received his BA in Chemistry from Texas A&M University and his PhD. in chemistry from the University of Texas, Austin. His current work is focused on improving the dynamic charge acceptance and lifespan of lead-acid batteries.

Robert. So how do you see the competition between lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries? If the cost of lithium-ion batteries continues to fall, what would prompt a consumer to purchase a lead-acid battery for their application?.

A: It’s not about picking winners or choosing between lead and lithium. Each battery technology will have a critical role to play in different applications, and the market will ultimately decide which technology is best suited to a particular need. The huge increase in demand for energy storage, from energy storage systems (ESS) for residential, commercial and industrial applications, to the integration of renewable energy, will require a wide range of batteries, each with its own characteristics. different strengths. For example, for energy storage, lead is very suitable for areas where safety is a concern, as evidenced by firefighters in New York and Boston restricting the use of lithium-ion batteries in residential buildings.

Robert: Where do you see the most opportunities for lead acid batteries in the future?

A: In telecommunications and uninterruptible power supply (UPS), there is a major cost advantage that comes with not only lower manufacturing cost, but also lower shipping cost (Class 9 hazardous for lithium, lithium cannot be transported by air freight.) Telecom and UPS batteries support 4G and will be an integral part of 5G, which will require new equipment and more infrastructure. Lead and lithium will provide this effort. Almost a billion dollars increase between the two industries. Note that if lithium will penetrate this market, lead will be the main choice and will dominate even more in countries with rapid deployment (India, part of Africa, West China, Vietnam, etc.).

There is also the fact that for the supply of materials, lead acid batteries have the advantage of being of national origin, which is important for both cost and national security, which is a priority. for the Department of Energy (DOE). Like oil and its dependence on certain unfavorable partners for supply, consider that up to 70% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Republic of Congo, sometimes requiring labor. children. Nickel, also used in lithium batteries, could become a pinch point for supply or cost. Currently, lithium reserves are plentiful, but the vast majority comes from China, Chile, Argentina and Zimbabwe. Australia is also a big producer and probably the friendliest partner in the group.

Robert. Where do you think the market is the riskiest?

A. The market for small household items (like phones, tablets, etc.) and drones and other products where weight, not performance, is the most important factor.

Robert. Beyond recycling, are there other sustainability arguments to be made for lead batteries?

A. Yes, lead acid batteries as a technology, not specific to an application, require 3 times less energy per kWh to produce. That’s 450 kWh for 1 kWh of lithium, 150 kWh for 1 kWh of lead. The energy generated to charge a lithium battery will likely cost more because the lithium battery is more energy dense.

On the lithium battery recycling side, the energy needed to recycle lithium batteries will cost more in addition to the additional cost of transport, complete unloading, dismantling, separation before recycling, assuming sufficient infrastructure are developed and even profitable to ensure recycling of lithium batteries. Since the production volume of lithium batteries is so low in North America, the recycled materials should probably be exported and controlled by other countries, such as China which currently processes around 85-90% of all materials in the world. recycled lithium. Additionally, as the first series of 10-year design lithium batteries will release hundreds of thousands of electric cars, will this additional cost be factored into the total cost of ownership (TCO) of lithium batteries? ?

Additionally, battery management systems (BMS), especially cooling requirements, for lithium batteries are considerably more complex – and expensive – than those required for lead-acid batteries.

Robert. The technology is 160 years old – don’t we know all about lead?

A. The lead-acid battery industry is involved in important research and innovation projects, including a revolutionary study at the Argonne National Laboratory of the Ministry of Energy. In addition, the work undertaken by the CBI to improve dynamic charge acceptance and lifecycle performance will give the lead-acid battery industry a competitive advantage and the opportunity to secure a large portion of future storage markets. energy and automotive. For example, the lifespan of lead-acid batteries has increased by 30-35% over the past 20 years. There are also many advanced lead acid battery projects focused on reducing lead acid battery weight while increasing energy density.

Robert. But will electric vehicles (EVs) spell the end of the internal combustion engine?

A. In terms of the electric vehicle revolution, lead acid batteries remain the key to the transition with virtually all vehicles containing a lead acid battery. Only lead-acid batteries achieve all of the cold cranking amplification (CCA) performance necessary for starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) applications, and virtually all electric vehicles also have a lead-acid battery. board to power critical safety functions. This is reflected in Avicenna’s forecast for continued growth in the automotive battery market (Page 11 – CBI’s technical roadmap).

They also enable start-stop technology that removes 4.5 million tonnes of GHG emissions in the United States each year. This number is expected to increase as the start-stop system’s market share continues to grow from the current 7% of the US car and truck fleet.

CBI brings together the entire industry, from lead-acid battery manufacturers to leading research institutes, to increase the performance of lead-acid batteries and generate new technological advancements to meet the future demand that is needed as we let’s move to higher levels of electrification and decarbonization globally.

Robert. Are there any final thoughts you would like to add?

A. I think we all agree that the demand for energy storage, which is expected to increase at least 10 times by 2050 in Europe alone, and capacity on an American scale is expected to increase going from 1,000 MW today to 2,500 MW in 2023 (EIA), will require a range of battery technologies delivering on a large scale.

We commissioned an independent market analysis and forecast from Avicenna, which predicted more than double the growth of batteries needed for energy storage applications between 2015 and 2025 – from 100,000 MWh to over 400,000 MWh ( see page 8 – in CBI’s technical roadmap).

While lithium will remain a key technology and experience tremendous growth, lead acid batteries are the only other battery technology currently on the market and also available on a mass market scale with the technical requirements required to meet this level. of request. In fact, lead acid batteries currently account for over 70% of rechargeable battery energy storage around the world.

It is one thing to compare the price of chemistry against the cost of the entire battery system, including battery management systems (BMS), charger, and accessories. Lithium batteries require special BMS controls to prevent the battery from thermal events such as fires. Additional communication systems may be required to connect to the vehicle it powers. With less than 1% of all lithium batteries produced in the United States, raw material supply, production capacity, investments can prevent lithium batteries from “keeping up” with demand.

And finally, thank you, Robert, for the opportunity to provide additional insight into the future of lead acid batteries.

Robert. Thank you for your time.

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