No longer just powering your remote control, batteries have become a vital ingredient in the fight against climate change. Without batteries with the capability to store the energy produced from renewable sources, or to power cars that perform as well—if not better—than their gas counterparts, the electrification of society will fail and net zero will remain out of reach.
Current battery technology isn’t good enough to anchor this revolution, and while battery guru Elon Musk is busy asking Twitter whether he should be selling billions of dollars worth of Tesla shares, other companies are taking strides to make this technology a key part of the energy transition.
Micrometers to nanometers
French company NAWA Technologies has designed a new kind of electrode that the company says will produce significantly smaller batteries with 10 times the power output of today’s best-performing alternative. The technology behind the innovation is vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes, which, CTO Pascal Boulanger said, reduces the distance an ion needs to move “from micrometers to nanometers.” Aimed at the electric car industry, the batteries could make 1,000-kilometer ranges and five-minute charge times the standard.
On top of the performance improvements, using carbon instead of other minerals dramatically reduces the environmental impact of production. CEO Ulrik Grape said the electrode “could halve the time in which an electric vehicle pays back the CO2 created in its manufacture—as well as being able to recharge at the same time it takes to refuel and drive the same distance on electricity as a tank of gas.”
A battery made from sawdust?
Skeptics argue that while batteries are better for the environment than traditional fossil fuels, the impact of the extraction of precious minerals and the nonrecyclable nature of existing solutions mean that they aren’t as environmentally friendly as they need to be.
Norwegian battery producer Beyonder’s patented technology has removed the need to mine cobalt, replacing it with a carbon alternative: sawdust. Not only is this a sustainable means of producing batteries, but the company says that this change also leads to a more durable, safer and better-performing product.
On its website, Beyonder says its batteries “nonflammable and can be fully charged in two minutes and recharged up to 100,000 times, thus reducing the need for frequent replacement of batteries.”
Northvolt, a Swedish battery manufacturer, has reimagined the way batteries are produced. By combining renewable energy, circular energy systems, and extensive recycling, the company aims to create the cleanest battery in the world, reducing the traditional carbon footprint of a lithium-ion battery by 80%.
Northvolt’s flagship factory, located in Skellefteå in northern Sweden, is powered entirely by local renewable energy. The company’s recycling technology also means that it can reuse 97% of any dead battery returned to the plant.
The company’s goal is that, by 2030, 50% of the raw materials needed for new cells will come from recycled ones. This focus on reuse has also enabled the company to cut costs, allowing for lower operating costs and ultimately a less expensive product.