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Should We Expect a Battery Revolution? - Barış Sanlı

When moving forward into 2021, we are all interested in new revolutionary technologies. There may be perovskite solar panels with high efficiencies, or there may be new revolutionary batteries. They are all welcomed to the age of clean energy transition. QuantumScape's latest lithium solid-state battery is one interesting example.

The memories of Envia's failure and fraud are still fresh in my memories. As a Bay Area startup, they promised a 400 W/kg battery for 125$/kW in 2012. Later on, there were lots of disputes about it, and Envia has collapsed.

Solyndra manufacturer of solar cells, has also lost more than 500 million $s of US government loan and bankrupted in 2011. It was said that they couldn't compete with cheap Chinese PV manufacturing. But there were also disputes about their promises and numbers.

Therefore it took a long time to trust new startups with revolutionary technologies. There was also an academic side to this. In solar, for example, you hear about record efficiencies. But most of these papers rarely mention durability and stability.

But what is the big energy revolution after all this R&D for clean energy technologies? Tesla's latest investor presentation has some tips about what to expect from a revolution. In battery chemistry, it is not easy to make giant leaps. Rather you either tune the materials or the processes. Tesla seems to do both. They have incremental progress in battery technology. But their biggest leap comes from battery manufacturing.

While thinking about an incremental revolution on the battery side, OxfordPV breaks the news for efficient solar cells. Their claim is bold, "35 kg of perovskite generates the same amount of power as 7 tons of silicon". Using them with silicon can give us a theoretical efficiency limit of 43%. Can we spray our energy generators? With perovskites, this looks possible.

We can also hardly forget about Nikola Motors, an electric and hydrogen fuel cell truck company. A report titled "dozens of lies" accused the company of fraud and resulted in its CEO Trevor Milton's resignation. A January 2018 video of Nikola's semi-truck in motion was a fraud. It was just a non-working prototype rolled down a hill. The company is still valuable, but the damage has been done.

Here come QuantumScape's claims that quadruple their value in a month. Unlike traditional batteries, they do not have an anode before manufacturing. The revolutionary part is not the exotic materials but a solid-state separator that separates the cathode active and lithium ions after getting charged. Their youtube videos show the revolutionary part at the 13th minute. This technology achieves %80 percent charge in 15 minutes and north of 400 W/kg energy density.

Yet, the battery needs at least 2-3 years to enter commercial manufacturing. Volkswagen is one of the investors as well as Bill Gates. But they have the independent tests for their batteries, and the manufacturing process seems not too challenging. Scaling can be an issue.

The short future of battery and PV technologies look increasingly like perovskites and solid batteries. What will be their effect is a deeper question? For one thing, what happens if we see 100,000$/MW solar systems? The whole fossil ecosystem may find it hard to survive in such an environment.

The road is not an easy one. In the clean energy ecosystem, fraud and deception are no different. But the radical claims by the battery, solar companies make us wonder whether they are the next Envia, Solyndra, or Nikola. Independent verification of these technologies is as important as fossil reserve verifications.

But what if QuantumScape's tech is the right battery revolution? What if the age of solid-state batteries is starting? Then we will enter into a new realm. Electric cars will be the future for sure. That is probably why Apple announced its intentions.

What about the electric systems? Then we have to think about whether batteries become part of household electric equipment just like meters. This changes the definition of a blackout, market operation, and electricity services. Personally, I think a battery revolution is coming.


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