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Europe: Germany Researching Lithium Battery Technology

This month, the German Ruhr-Universität Bochum is launching a research project to develop an aqueous lithium battery. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research will be supporting the study with approximately $1.9 million in funding over a five-year period. The team’s goals are to produce a lithium storage format that will deliver high-energy density at an economically viable cost, and to develop batteries suitable for electric power grid applications.

Typically, lithium batteries are based on organic solvents and are used in laptop computers and other portable devices. Overall the demand for batteries currently represents almost 30 percent of total global demand for lithium. Lithium has not yet been used as a storage format in power supply systems because at present lithium batteries are considered relatively expensive and potentially unsafe, with risks including short circuits due to rapid overheating.

Unlocking potential for renewable energy sources

Dr. Fabio La Mantia of the Center for Electrochemical Sciences at Ruhr-Universität Bochum discussed the prospects for renewable energy resources in Europe with Lithium Investing News.

Expansion of storage capacities is considered vital if a substantial increase in European renewable energy solutions is to occur. However, the economic reality of renewable energy is of some debate and “depends a lot on the result of this research. There are other technologies that have a high efficiency and a low maintenance cost, but they have a low volumetric energy density and high installation costs. So, we are trying to make a battery that is sufficiently cheap and can have a high volumetric energy density.”

Germany pioneering an energy-efficient future

Expecting an overall reduction in electrical output, Frost & Sullivan‘s energy group has forecast that German electricity generation will decline 5.6 percent over the course of the decade. Last year, following the earthquake and nuclear accident in Japan, Germany decided to terminate nuclear operations by 2022. This means that the world’s fourth-largest economy will either have to reduce its overall consumption by 28 percent, or replace its current supply through alternatives. Importing electricity from France and the Czech Republic would likely involve nuclear energy, so a combination of using natural gas or coal, improving efficiency, and enabling renewable sources may be the only practical solution.

Higher costs

The deployment of most renewable energy technologies requires both financial and non-financial policy support, largely due to intermittent environmental conditions, specific market characteristics, and technological development. Growth in renewable energy sources is likely to encounter considerable challenges in terms of power transmission infrastructure, and will require substantial upgrades to the existing grid system.

A global reach

If this research generates positive results it could have global energy implications for lithium investors and industry stakeholders. In its most recent five-year plan, the Chinese government set nearly half of its $18 billion budget aside for environmental technologies, with twelve percent of this amount going toward smart grid technology development. The plan indicates a significant interest in the technology’s potential, and the fact that smart meters require backup battery power represents an opportunity for lithium battery technology aside from consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

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