Lithium Will Dominate Energy Storage Like Silicon Dominated Computer Chips

Mark Twain said history does not repeat but it often rhymes. This will likely be the case with the future of lithium-based battery storage having a dominance like silicon was dominant for decades for computer chips. The silicon chip was invented in 1961 by Robert Noyce (Fairchild, Intel) and Jack Kilby (Texas Instruments).

Silicon is still the main material for computer chips although there have been many elements and changes to enhance performance. There were many times where it was believed that materials used for computer chips would change. There have been various challenger technologies: Magnetic bubble memory, carbon nanotubes, germanium, gallium arsenide and many others.

Many have claimed that Lithium-ion batteries will get replaced with solid-state batteries, zinc batteries, sodium-sulfur and other battery technologies. There are a hundred or more battery types that could potentially become the main type of battery.

Countering all of the potential materials and types of batteries are major innovations that will keep lithium as central to energy storage.

Changing the battery anode can double the energy density and reduce the cost of lithium batteries. A silicon anode instead of graphite can greatly increase the energy density.

Tesla is developing the Maxwell Technologies dry cell technology for lithium-ion batteries. This could reach 500-watt hours per kilogram of energy density.

Lithium Sulfur batteries can theoretically reach 2600 watt-hours per kilogram and costs in the $20 per kilowatt-hour range. The best lithium-sulfur batteries that are near commercialization have 500 watt-hours per kilogram.

Tesla and legendary battery researcher Jeff Dahn are making progress to lithium metal batteries.

Lithium air batteries could increase energy density by ten times.

The Rocky Mountain Institute surveyed potential battery technologies.

The lithium metal polymer version of lithium-ion batteries could reach $30 per kilowatt-hour costs. Currently Tesla and CATL have lithium-ion or lithium iron phosphate batteries at $80-100 per kilowatt-hour costs.

If the advanced forms of other battery technologies only have a 50% advantage in cost and energy density then the dominant lithium-based battery technology will get further cost and energy density innovations that will negate justification for switching the base technology.

Lithium-ion and lithium-based technologies that are highly compatible with the existing factories and supply chains will have tens of billions of dollars in research.

Any new technology that will displace lithium-ion and its variants will need to find a highly lucrative niche in order to get the continuous funding and development effort to overtake lithium-ion in order to overturn an industry.

It is also clear that batteries will improve by 5-20 times in costs and 5-10 times or more in energy density over the next 10-25 years.

There could be even larger improvements if nanotechnology-based fabrication arrives. Having fractal designs for battery anodes and cathodes could reduce charging and discharges times for batteries to ultracapacitor levels.

SOURCES- Science direct, Electrek, Tesla, Rocky Mountain Institute, Evonix, Wikipedia
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

35 thoughts on “Lithium Will Dominate Energy Storage Like Silicon Dominated Computer Chips”

  1. That example weakens your stance… The first several is the exact same thing, crude oil. The last one is almost the same, only a gaseous variant.

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  2. And if space, cost and registration fees were not an issue, how many vehicles would people have…assuming they only buy things with utility to them rather than as a collector or an enthusiast? I suspect that is 4 or more vehicles per household.

    This is just baseless conjecture.

    "Then add to that 1-5 billion human-carrying drones, and other aircraft. And you really think that kind of demand is going to be fulfilled by the lithium we have and we will also have plenty to squander on grid back up all over the globe?"

    Since there's around 230 billion tons of lithium in seawater, it will be enought for anyone with surplus.

    "There will be competing technologies. The rewards are to great for there not to be significant research into other chemistries."

    Well, if there are particular applications, where other chemistries can get an edge over lithium chemistries, then sure they culd rise. But abundance is not likely to be a factor in this.

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  3. It is too attractive to look for other chemistries…too many uses. Look at fuel. Is there one kind of fuel? No. There is Diesel, gasoline, natural gas, jet fuel, heavy oil for ships, propane for forklifts. All these coexist. Why would batteries be different?

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  4. Yes, there is enough lithium for the countries that have cars, at the quantities they have, but everyone is going to want cars and most countries have very few cars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita
    And if space, cost and registration fees were not an issue, how many vehicles would people have…assuming they only buy things with utility to them rather than as a collector or an enthusiast? I suspect that is 4 or more vehicles per household. Only one country has more vehicles than people today.
    Then add to that 1-5 billion human-carrying drones, and other aircraft. And you really think that kind of demand is going to be fulfilled by the lithium we have and we will also have plenty to squander on grid back up all over the globe?
    More than that. There will be competing technologies. The rewards are to great for there not to be significant research into other chemistries.

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  5. Imperial Japan needed a significant new source of oil after the US stopped exporting oil to them. They quickly figured out that the easiest way to obtain the crude oil supplies needed was to wage war on southeast Asian nations with oil reserves and take their oil by force. There lots of neutral countries Japan could have purchased crude oil from, but it was cheaper and easier to steal it from weak Asian nations using military force.

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  6. "Nor do I remember wars over resources that otherwise could have been more easily procured"

    So, what you're saying is, you've already forgotten your history.

    Oh, and lithium isn't as easy to acquire as you imply.

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  7. Yet, history remains linear. And no event ever happened twice.

    (Nor do I remember wars over resources that otherwise could have been more easily procured.)

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  8. Aluminium seems way too troublesome to be viable.
    Besides there's more than enough lithium. Which mind you doesn't get dispersed into the atmosphere. So all of the lithium of a failed li-ion cell remains where it is, just waiting to be recycled.

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  9. Over Lithium? No way… It's abundant. It's cheaper to design a process and extract lithium from the ocean than to go to war.

    Besides there's a lot of energy all around, renewable or nuclear. The fact that we don't have dirt cheap energy is because of idiocy and foolishness and carrying around baggage.

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  10. This article is a mess, and self condraticting… It says that Li-ion will remain dominant and that there will be at least 5-10 times improvement in energy density, which is in fact impossible for Li-ion.
    Also:

    Many have claimed that Lithium-ion batteries will get replaced with solid-state batteries, zinc batteries, sodium-sulfur and other battery technologies

    Which includes this author later in this article as well… Li metal batteries are not Li-ion.
    Besides solid state is pretty much happening, pretty much everyone is exploring this.
    And if lithium based battery was meant, then solid state batteries are overwhelmingly lithium based.

    If the advanced forms of other battery technologies only have a 50% advantage in cost and energy density then the dominant lithium-based battery technology will get further cost and energy density innovations that will negate justification for switching the base technology.

    It doesn't even make sense to pile them under lithium based technology, they're not one technology. Obscenely different battery chemistries can use lithium as well as other metals. There's just no point in using other materials because lithium has the best energy density and is abundant, unless you want something very cheap.

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  11. Sulfur is available in vast amounts from the refining of various sulfide and sulfate ores. They have to pay to get rid of the stuff.

    Sodium? Well that would be a major constituent of sea water.

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  12. There's always a resource or limited number of resources that dominates the energy sector, and nations will go to war over those resources… When we start having wars over lithium, then you'll understand better.

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  13. I don't see it ever being built now without a Federal build/bailout. Prices have climbed and climbed and climbed with no end in sight for the first 12 pack 720MW NuScale plant. $8.47 per watt is just too expensive. They have until Sep 30 to get more money due to two cities in Utah cancelling representing 20% of UAMPS demand (and a third about to cancel representing another 6%) or the deal is over. I predict a cancellation end of this month. It is too bad; I was hoping to see this being built to prove out the potential learning curve/Wright scaling cost savings thesis of the SMR.
    The first U.S. small-scale nuclear power project, grappling with cost
    overruns and delays, faces another challenge: the defection of cities
    that had committed to buying its power. The more than 30 members of the
    public power consortium Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) have until Sept. 30 to decide whether to stick with the project and devote more funds to NuScale Power LLC’s first-of-a-kind reactor.
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nuclearpower-nuscale/some-u-s-cities-turn-against-first-planned-small-scale-nuclear-plant-idUSKBN25T30E

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  14. That's a strawman though.
    Your highest price net zero GHG scenario would start from using already built gas turbines to burn alternative fuels (biomethane and ethanol) to generate about the 13% of total energy delivered. But why do that – you'd just burn regular methane and buy GHG offsets from planting trees. They cost about $30/tonne in the USA. Just buy them from poorer countries at $10/tonne. That's about 0.4 cents a kWh added to the fuel cost for $10/tonne.
    If by some miracle offsets from planting trees become scarce (which means GHG mitigation is going really well) you could build Allam cycle gas plants instead and capture the carbon at $50/tonne long term cost (2 cents a kWh additional cost for that 13%). That is a scenario for an upper price limit, not that I think Allam cycle mitigation will actually catch on as there are much cheaper alternatives than that.

    EDIT: And if there is a global market for large scale offsets, prices are probably going to be around $12/tonne steady state demand or twice that if there is robust demand growth to pay for quickly starting up new offset projects. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/22/1004218/how-green-sand-could-capture-billions-of-tons-of-carbon-dioxide/

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  15. There is effectively unlimited lithium available in underground saline aquifers at about twice the price of current sources. So not an issue at all if you pay twice the price.

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  16. I like aluminum ion for grid storage, if we are using batteries. There are certainly other ways to store energy. But aluminum ion chemistries can go for 10,000 cycles plus. They also can charge in a minute. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium-ion_battery
    And not every country needs cars with 400 miles range, or can afford lithium ion batteries. Aluminum ion could be just what they need. And energy density is not terrible either.
    The biggest thing this article does not consider is the lithium reserves. Lithium just is not very common. With silicon there are no such issues. At some point, the price of lithium will start climbing.
    I also predict that it will not just be automobiles requiring a lot of lithium but millions of personal people carrying drones as well as regular aircraft. The cars could be forced to use something else, either as a result of pricing or regulations.

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  17. Perhaps because its actually expensive to make hydrogen from electrolysis? And there are substantial losses in the process which further weakens the economical case?

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  18. The report is nice, I but a little too long for me to read, so I might have missed something. But I don't see how batteries could ever make up for seasonal variations and I can prove it with some napkin math. This means that solar and wind are not made more feasible by future battery prices.

    If you want a return on interest in 10 years for your batteries, and you demand that the electricity that you sell is no more than twice as expensive as "freshly produced" electricity, you get the following:

    10 years => 10 cycles
    1 kWh battery discharges 10 times for 10 kWh
    The price of 10 kWh is about 2 USD
    => battery must be cheaper than 2 USD per kWh

    Note that this does not take into account running costs of a battery facility, the additional system cost (DC-DC, mechanics, SW, ….),, aging of batteries and assumes a large electricity price of 20 c per kWh. In addition it assumes that customers would be willing to pay double for "green" energy.

    And still, the battery price is orders of magnitude too high even at 2030….

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  19. What I find astounding is that apparently the *material cost* of sodium sulfur high temperature is about – if I magnify the graph in the report – 2 USD per kWh.

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  20. What I find astounding is that apparently the *material cost* of sodium sulfur high temperature is about – if I magnify the graph in the report – 2 USD per kWh.

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  21. As a Western Australian I have a special interest in Lithium. This is because Western Australia supplies half the World lithium demand and will do so for years to come.

    To date, Western Australian lithium miners and refiners have been disappointed by the modest demand for lithium. As a consequence, they are delaying work on lithium projects.

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  22. I get it that because billions have been spent on lithium ion that it will be hard for a completely different technology to get to scale. However all that text about energy density is not particularly relevant to stationary storage. It is very relevant to mobile applications like cars and phones.

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  23. "Currently Tesla and CATL have lithium-ion or lithium iron phosphate"

    Errr …. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are lithium-ion batteries. They have iron and phosphate in the cathode. Other common cathode types for lithium ion batteries are NMC and NCA.

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  24. If you're going to include metal-air batteries and flow batteries then I don't see why you haven't included hydrogen fuel cells.

    Just this morning I was asked survey questions about government support for hydrogen fuel cells, so someone is clearly preparing some sort of political campaign on the subject.

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  25. The idea that people never have wars over farmland and crops would be of great interest to people in 99% of human history.

    Even World War 2 was, in the western theatre especially, and the eastern theatre to a significant extent, sparked by a desire to take farmland and other grown crops (eg. rubber)

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  26. It's always something.

    One meme I've always loved to lambast is the meme that supposes if we grow pot and turn that into fuel we won't have wars over oil. It never seems to dawn on these people that if we got 100% of our fuel from marijuana then our wars would be over marijuana fields.

    Something always dominates the energy market, and we'll invariably fight over it.

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  27. This seems clear for battery *energy* storage. Similar or greater improvements are poss with fuel cells for Hydrogen *energy* production, storage and use. Space Solar to get the energy either way. Unless direct conversion of light to split water is found.

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