Batteries are a fundamental driver of the green energy revolution. It is estimated that our society’s energy needs represent over 70% of all carbon emissions, with the largest shares coming from electricity and heat sources and transportation systems. The push to achieve net-zero is evident from numerous governmental initiatives such as the EU's commitment to cut carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, and global pacts such as the recent COP28 deliberations. To reach these goals means to effectively decarbonise the energy sector, and batteries will support the rollout of renewable energy infrastructure by providing energy storage capacity and reduce transport-related emissions by powering electric vehicles.
Batteries in energy markets are currently dominated by lithium-ion technology, but their employment in electric vehicles is given priority due to this technology’s unrivalled properties for this end use. This opens space for different technologies in other applications. Energy storage is a notable example, with battery energy storage capacity expected to grow twentyfold by 2030. All viable battery technologies will be needed to fulfil this soaring demand, and research & innovation to improve consolidated technologies is identified as an important way forward.
Lead batteries are currently the only other technology with well-established manufacturing and recycling infrastructure across the globe. But even if today's advanced lead batteries have come a long way from classic lead-acid car batteries in terms of overall performance, there are still various pathways for further improvements being discovered and explored.
The Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI) is the only global lead battery pre-competitive research organisation. Our goals are to help deliver the advanced lead batteries needed for the energy transition and to demonstrate their power to bring real change. We do so by assessing market needs to define concrete research goals, by providing financial support to breakthrough projects through our Technical Program, and by establishing partnerships to develop pioneering advanced lead battery-based solutions.
In this overview, we discuss how some of our projects are paving the way to unlock the full potential of advanced lead batteries for the green energy transition.
The indispensable low-voltage ally
Electric vehicles are key for a decarbonised transport. As the nonstop evolution in automotive technology requires more and more from the main lithium-ion battery, smaller auxiliary batteries, also called low-voltage EV batteries, have been increasingly employed for safety back-up and supply power to specific electronic features. This means advanced lead batteries can work alongside lithium-ion batteries to ensure our future decarbonised road transport fleet is also safe.
CBI’s Technical Program has been supporting projects focused on automotive lead battery optimisation for start-stop, microhybrid and auxiliary use. Some encouraging results include improvements in the methodology of laboratory cell testing to investigate key parameters for automotive applications, and valuable insights on the role of additive formulations to enhance automotive battery performance. Ongoing studies, such as the investigation on microscopic changes in positive and negative electrodes during different charge conditions, along with future projects, will continue to provide guidance for better active material formulation and performance metrics.
Taking energy storage capability to the next level
The shift to renewable energy is just getting started, and more extensive rollout will be closely followed by a sharp increase in the need for energy storage systems to compensate for the intermittent nature of these energy sources. Global performance targets are aggressive and require different battery technologies with long lifetimes, high total energy throughput and low acquisition cost to meet technoeconomic needs. Our industry is focused on delivering longer lasting and more energy dense batteries to help meet the demand for utility, commercial, residential, and industrial energy storage applications.
Different projects supported by CBI’s Technical Program have been investigating advanced lead battery enhancements specifically for energy storage applications. Key findings so far include insights into barium sulphate additive configurations that can bring benefits to overall cycle life, and in-situ analyses during battery operation to understand charge and discharge processes and their products. More exciting results will come from projects and initiatives starting in 2024, including CBI’s involvement in the U.S. National Consortium for the Advancement of Long Duration Energy Storage Technologies. This will keep adding to our growing knowledge base and contributing to advanced lead battery performance improvement for energy storage.
Powering a just transition
The lack of access to both electricity and clean cooking, known as energy poverty, remains a pressing global issue. It is estimated that 775 million people lack access to electricity and 2.2 billion people lack access to clean cooking fuels, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. Providing universal clean energy access leaving no one behind is essential for a successful green energy transition. But the rollout of renewable energy in areas with no or incipient grid infrastructure is challenging, and lowering investment costs is a must. Through ongoing partnerships, we are demonstrating that the combination of microgrids and advanced lead battery storage is an excellent solution to provide clean and affordable energy for remote communities.
In an ongoing initiative funded by Horizon Europe, we are helping to develop a deployable clean energy solution with provision of electricity through prosumer-based solar microgrid coupled with an energy storage system made of advanced lead batteries. One core innovation in this battery energy storage system is the addition of an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen, which can be used as clean cooking fuel. By the end of the project in 2026, the team will deploy two full-scale pilots of this pioneering energy solution, one in Côte d'Ivoire and one in Zambia.
CBI is also contributing to another smart solution, this one already in testing phase: a solar energy microgrid with a combined micro electric tractor. Advanced lead batteries power both the microgrid energy storage system and the tractor. The project, funded by Innovate UK, aims to bring a 2-in-1 solution for rural communities by providing clean energy and optimising land preparation. Recent field demonstrations have shown the potential of the micro electric tractor to significantly increase crop yields, which will help to increase smallholder incomes. The solution has been selected as one of the finalists of a prestigious international green energy prize.
Novel solutions like these not only alleviate energy poverty issues but also provide a pathway toward citizen empowerment. They can substantially contribute to universal access to modern energy and to achieve other Sustainable Development Goals regarding poverty reduction, health and education.
This is why we believe the future is bright and green and we will continue to drive advanced lead battery innovation for sustainable development and a climate-resilient future.