While batteries have infiltrated every part of life to become a tool nearly everyone relies on from day to day, they continue to provide the most value in the commercial sector. From powering energy storage systems that prevent rolling blackouts to individual batteries that run telecommunication or manufacturing equipment, commercial batteries make today’s advanced systems possible to run. Battery technology isn’t new, but today’s cutting-edge energy storage systems are getting more complex with each passing year. Battery innovations are at an all-time high, at least according to the fact that 90% of energy storage patents in Europe filed in 2020 were for a battery design or feature. Whatever comes tomorrow to revolutionize battery storage capacity and their commercial applications, you can rest assured that Battery Recyclers of America will be there to support you through the transition by replacing older batteries with new ones.
Many of the biggest breakthroughs in batteries that are expected to arrive over the next few years involve new materials or new ways to use readily available materials. All batteries rely on some combination of liquids known as electrolytes to react inside the core and allow for energy storage and then subsequent discharge. While lead-acid and then lithium-ion have long ruled the commercial battery market, they’re not the only options that will be available or affordable if developments hold out as expected over the next few years.
Sulfur to Cut Costs
While there is a lot of focus on the costs and difficulty of lithium mining, it’s often the other heavy metals inside rechargeable batteries that are truly the most expensive components. Cobalt, manganese, and even nickel can be difficult to source as demand grows for battery production. Sulfur has the potential to replace these rare metals and therefore reduce both the cost and complexity of recycling procedures. These batteries function much like the lithium-ion models currently used, but they create much less of a pollution risk.
Solid State Batteries
One of the flashiest and most well-reported upcoming advancements in the battery world is the solid state design. While it may get a lot of attention, it’s for a good reason, at least in the commercial battery field. The technology was first developed all the way back in the 1800s, but the use of solid electrodes and electrolytes has largely been impractical in real-world applications. From NASA to dozens of private industry companies, everyone’s working on breaking through since these batteries can offer a discharge rate up to 50 times higher than current lithium-based designs. When it comes to the massive demands of the power grid or industrial equipment, that’s a major breakthrough in battery value.
Another option for reducing the cost and environmental impact of battery production is the use of common elements such as potassium and selenium. Unfortunately, batteries made with these materials in place of lithium have been plagued with issues with energy storage capacity loss quickly after being put into use. 3D printing breakthroughs have created variations using just small amounts of cobalt and other high-demand metals to make batteries that are less expensive to create while still offering the energy storage needed for commercial purposes.
Organosilicon Electrolytes for Safety
Some of the biggest upcoming breakthroughs in battery construction won’t completely overhaul the current lithium-ion design but instead will improve its already reliable design. One of the biggest flaws of current LI batteries is the high risk of fire, especially when batteries are stored with more than a 50% charge. Using organosilicon electrolytes rather than the carbonate-based solvents common in today’s LI batteries can dramatically reduce this fire risk for safer and easier-to-store commercial storage power units.
Increasing Regulations and Requirements
As the use of commercial batteries rises across all industries, so does the amount of regulations and laws applied to industrial and power system users in particular. The larger the battery, the more of a risk it poses for both environmental pollution and fire. While many of the newest regulations on safety and labeling apply to batteries made in or shipped to Europe, the US is also catching up on setting regulations on recycling and material sourcing for commercial batteries in particular.
Tax Credit Limitations
In the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a new tax credit was announced to encourage purchasing of electric vehicles to reduce demand for gasoline and diesel fuels. However, this credit came with a strong limitation involving the battery or batteries powering the vehicle. The $7,500 credit is only available if the battery was manufactured from materials mined in the US or one of the countries it has a free-trade agreement. As of 2022, China produces close to 80% of the batteries used in EVs sold in the US. That means in order to make this tax credit appealing and useful to drivers, American battery manufacturing will have to greatly increase from the 7% produced domestically for the US electric vehicle market in 2021.
EPA Considering Recycling Requirements
While, as of 2022, there are no specific federal recycling requirements for the majority of commercial batteries in use, the EPA has been signaling that it is moving to change this soon. Right now only states regulate how commercial and personal batteries must be handled during disposal. A published Request for Information shows that the agency is working towards a full set of regulations to guide the entire battery supply chain in the US. It seems that the labeling process will still be voluntary to assist in streamlining the recycling process, but the need to handle batteries correctly when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan is likely to become mandatory for many companies across dozens of industries within the next few years.
Recycling and End of Life
All of the current battery technology used in commercial applications has a fixed lifespan. Even with advancements in the use of alternative materials and design improvements, each battery will eventually need replacement. Planning for the end of life for massive power storage units can take just as much work as choosing and installing them in the first place. Yet new methods for disassembly, recapture of valuable materials, and reuse will help reduce the chance of negative environmental impacts from expanded reliance on battery technology.
One of the biggest challenges of recycling rechargeable batteries involves discharging the energy still stored within. Depending on the volatility of the electrolyte and electrode composition, it can be dangerous to have even a few percent of the total charge still in the battery. This is particularly true for lithium-ion batteries. Direct discharging stations that connect to the battery’s contacts and use up the energy stored within are slow, expensive to operate, and need regular maintenance. New techniques that involve liquid submersion discharge without explosive or fire risks are emerging for the rapid discharging of large volumes of batteries, allowing for much faster movement through the processing steps.
Advancements in Separation
A big leap in battery recycling was worked out by the Department of Energy in 2019, but it’s still being implemented across the material processing industry. The original problem was the fact that valuable materials like cobalt, manganese, and nickel are all mixed together in the used battery that’s being recycled. Separating the various metals out was often deemed too costly and time consuming to be practical, greatly limiting future uses of the reclaimed material. The DOE’s trials revealed that frothing the mixture at the right rate caused some materials to float while others sank. This low-cost and relatively low-energy method of separation will make it much easier to fully reuse materials in new battery production.
Ultrasound to Boost Recovery Rates
Another technique still in development for improving recovery rates overall during battery cycling is ultrasound. Since ultrasound waves are easily generated with relatively little electricity, it’s good news that they can produce a surprising recovery rate when used in combination with disassembly. Manually breaking down a battery often leaves less than 70% of materials being recovered, but adding in ultrasonic treatment has improved that rate to 80% or more in tests run by The Faraday Institution.
Energy Storage Systems
Batteries have traditionally played a limited role in backing up the overall energy storage system in the US and around the world. Even as recently as 2022, pumped hydro energy storage made up over 90% of the global capacity for backup power. This type of energy storage has long been lower in cost than battery systems, but it’s not without its environmental impact and risks as well. When the water is lost due to a collapse or failure, it can flood homes and damage local environments. The feasibility and affordability of using batteries for energy storage are both beginning to increase, so future advancements in this field are sure to involve plenty of battery technology upgrades.
Flow Batteries for Continuous Power Storage
One reason that large-scale lithium batteries have not taken off as a power storage option yet is the continuous loss of power as a battery sits unused. When used for critical power and backup operations, even a loss of 5% of total power can lead to problems. Redox flow cells work around the constant discharge issue with an exchange of fluids that prevents a loss of power over time. The regular refreshment of the electrolyte solution within the battery, through pumps or internal membranes, ensures a greater rate of regeneration and recharging as well. These are all essential features for battery systems designed to store multiple megawatts of power to support the grid or individual facilities that perform essential functions like hospitals and more.
In all industries and applications, commercial battery costs are a major stumbling block to their use. While these batteries may allow for the steady and uninterrupted use of renewable energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric plants, they also tend to come with high price tags. Battery costs have been dropping steadily for the last ten years, from prices on electric vehicle units to those required for backup power generation on a work site. Falling battery costs are necessary for their widespread adoption, so new advancements that help production and installation expenses drop are good news for manufacturers and commercial users alike.
How Many Batteries Must Be Supplied?
In order to supply electric vehicle demand alone, it’s estimated that 1,000 gigawatts of total manufacturing capacity must be online by 2025. Production demand could increase by 50% again just by 2030, and that’s only factoring in demand for EVs. Once you consider the additional scale of demand for commercial and industrial battery systems, it’s clear that manufacturing must increase exponentially. This is projected to help lower costs as well, both by driving competition between manufacturers and by encouraging greater innovation to address cost and supply issues.
Historically, costs have remained above $100 per kilowatt hour for battery cells made with lithium-ion technology. It’s projected that the average cost will finally fall below that point during 2023. This should help accelerate the adoption of this technology for energy storage across the grid, not to mention help increase the demand for both new and used electric vehicles. As new developments in manufacturing and recycling help trim the costs associated with producing these batteries, it’ll be easier for industries of all kinds to embrace energy storage on-site. Battery savings are expected to continue through the rest of the 2020s, resulting in prices as low as around $70 per kilowatt hour by 2030. Of course, only time will tell how prices actually fluctuate with the advent of new recycling technology and changes in manufacturing.
Battery technologies may come and go, but we’re always ready to help here at Battery Recyclers of America. You can rest assured that we keep up with every change and advancement in the commercial battery world. Our recycling methods upgrade as the batteries adapt, ensuring we’re qualified to help decommission, remove, and recycle almost every type of battery used today. Contact us today with your questions about commercial battery recycling.