A spotlight on advanced battery technology at the 2023 Clean Energy Forum
Thermo Fisher Scientific recently co-hosted its inaugural Clean Energy Forum in collaboration with renowned Professor Y. Shirley Meng, PhD, a Professor at the University of Chicago and Chief Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, from September 25th to 27th at the picturesque Scripps Seaside Forum in La Jolla, California. This forum served as a meeting ground for brilliant scientists and engineers hailing from prestigious research institutions, with presentations from a number of experts in the field, including the esteemed Nobel Prize Laureate, and creator of the lithium-ion battery, Professor Stanley Whittingham. The primary focus of this event was to spotlight the latest advancements in advanced battery technology research and development and battery manufacturing, especially in the realm of lithium-ion batteries.
The Clean Energy Forum marked a significant moment in the journey towards a sustainable future. This event was not just about scientific discussions – it was about forging partnerships and pioneering advancements in battery research and clean energy technology. Here are the insights and significant discussions that lit the way to a cleaner, more sustainable future.
The future of energy storage technology belongs to lithium-ion batteries (for now)
The discussions at the Clean Energy Forum revolved around the pivotal role of lithium-ion batteries in the clean energy landscape. However, an equally important question emerged: What comes after lithium-ion? Possibilities include Lithium-sulfur battery, sodium-ion based technologies, and solid-state batteries.
The choice of battery chemistry depends on the specific application. For example, while the transportation sector, particularly electric vehicles (EVs), prioritizes lower-cost batteries to make EVs more affordable, the energy storage sector places paramount importance on cycle life. However, regardless of application, safety is always the number one priority for all battery applications.
Notably, solid-state batteries gained significant attention due to their potential to revolutionize the industry with the promise of enhanced energy density and safety. However, for this advanced battery technology to become fully commercially available, it has its own challenges from R&D to manufacturing, where advanced metrology is required. Yet, the financial stability of these alternatives compared to lithium-ion remains a topic of debate. For now, lithium-ion remains the dominant force in clean energy.
“In the next decade there is plenty of room for successful advanced battery technologies – it can be aqueous battery materials, it can be sodium batteries, it can be sulfur, it can be solid state, but any battery technology we’re working on must scale very fast to meet our energy transition needs,” said Dr. Meng.
Bridging the scaling gap
A critical challenge highlighted was the scaling gap between product development and the large-scale lithium-ion battery production. This challenge calls for innovative solutions to accelerate the transition from lab-scale development to mass lithium-ion battery production efficiently. With bridging the scaling gap comes the need for quality control. Battery manufacturing on a massive scale demands stringent quality assurance. Battery is a complex electrochemical system and thus ensuring product consistency is paramount. Materials characterization solutions capable of providing quantitative, precise, and reproducible data analysis with high throughput are critical to achieving these objectives.
Collaboration in battery research is more vital than ever
With speakers and attendees from both academia and the battery industry, the Clean Energy Forum underscored the vital importance of continued collaboration between the two groups. Academia and government play a crucial role in highlighting long-term challenges, while industry focuses on immediate problem-solving and process optimization for scaling up. Therefore, synergy between the two groups is essential to addressing the complex issues facing the clean energy sector, driving innovation, filling knowledge gaps, and advancing clean energy solutions through technology.
“When we think about our mission to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, clean energy is a big part of that,” said Dan Shine, Senior Vice President and President, Analytical Instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific during the day 1 panel discussion. “We need to look at it holistically, from both an academic and industry standpoint to understand where pain points are, what’s holding up the current development of batteries, and apply some of our technologies to those situations,” he continued.
“The easiest way to bridge this gap is through people,” agreed Professor Whittingham. “Not only an exchange of information, but an exchange of talent. I spent about 15 years in industry before I moved back to academia, so I know how industry works. There must be a give and take.”
“It’s only together that we can solve these problems that ultimately lead to breakthroughs in energy independence,” Dan Shine added.
Overall, the Clean Energy Forum was a resounding success in illuminating the future of clean energy. The event brought together brilliant minds, fostered interdisciplinary dialogue, and helped to highlight key challenges and opportunities in advanced battery technology essential in the future of clean energy. It emphasized the importance of collaboration, innovation, and adaptability in the rapidly evolving clean energy sector. The future, it seems, is bright, powered by lithium-ion batteries but with an eye on exciting alternatives on the horizon.
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Dieter Hofmann is the Senior Director / General Manager for Batteries, Materials Science at Thermo Fisher Scientific