January 27, 2023

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Charging electric vehicles

Batteries are one of the most valuable components in electronic devices, needed for everything from cell phones and laptops to medical devices and electric vehicles (EVs).

The rapid growth in the electronics industry means that the demand for batteries is skyrocketing. In fact, the global battery market is expected to reach $423.90 billion by 2030. Here are some of the biggest industry trends for 2023, including supply chain challenges, component shortages and the latest innovations.

1. Increasingly strict security measures

Lithium-ion batteries are generally safe, but they can overheat, catch fire, or explode if damaged, unsafely charged, or of poor quality.

Various laws have been enacted in recent years to prevent such occurrences – a trend that will continue into 2023 as new products and new challenges around battery safety emerge.

For example, in 2022, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that at least 19 people had died as a result of overheating incidents associated with battery-powered products such as e-bikes, scooters and hoverboards. These micromobility devices have been responsible for at least 208 fires and 142 injuries in New York City.

2. Development of smaller batteries

The size of the wearable technology market was estimated at US$138.61 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach US$265.4 billion by 2026.

Wearable devices such as smart watches, virtual reality (VR) headsets and fitness trackers are becoming more sophisticated in functionality, resulting in faster power consumption and smaller devices.

As a result, manufacturers are scrambling to create smaller, longer-lasting batteries. In February last year, for example, a research team from Chemnitz University of Technology (CUT) presented the world’s smallest battery, which is no bigger than a grain of sand.

“Bendable” or “flexible” batteries are another potential solution to the small battery problem. These batteries are made of zinc, a metal far more accessible than lithium, and can be shrunk, bent, and twisted to fit all manner of tiny devices. Alameda-based company Imprint Energy is working on a flexible solid-state zinc battery called ZinCore that is just one millimeter wide.

3. A rise in battery alternatives

The global lithium-ion battery market size is expected to reach US$193.13 billion by 2028, but the lithium-ion battery supply chain is plagued with challenges. Lithium-ion battery components, including lithium itself, graphite, cobalt, and copper, are in short supply. China has 59% of the world’s lithium processing capacity, and the rapid rise of electric vehicles could create a worrying shortage of raw materials as early as 2027.

Due to these ongoing problems, numerous battery alternatives are currently under development, ranging from aqueous magnesium batteries, solid-state batteries, sodium-based batteries, and graphene batteries. The future of solid state batteries looks particularly bright, with the market size expected to reach $294.1 million by 2027.

Not only can these batteries solve supply chain bottlenecks, but they can also provide a more sustainable and ethical alternative to lithium-ion battery manufacturing. Extracting core raw materials such as lithium and cobalt requires enormous amounts of energy and water, and working conditions in the mines are often unsafe. For example, up to 70% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where ever-growing demand for the material has fueled the creation of thousands of mining companies where unsafe working conditions are possible.

4. A spotlight on battery recycling

At full capacity, rechargeable batteries can have a positive impact on the environment – the longer they are used, the longer they stay out of landfill. About three billion batteries end up in landfill every year, a number that could be drastically reduced if rechargeable batteries became the norm.

Some nations have chosen to impose mandates. In the EU, for example, 45% of end-of-life batteries must be collected for recycling, and the Union is considering legislation that would require 4% of all new lithium batteries manufactured in the EU to be made from recycled material by 2030, rising to 10%. until 2035.

In September 2022, the US passed the Strategic EV Management Act, which aims to maximize the reuse and recycling of spent electric vehicle batteries in federal fleet vehicles. If approved by the House of Representatives, federal agencies will need to work with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), manufacturers and recyclers to develop a strategic plan for EV battery reuse and recycling.

In addition, the US Department of Energy hopes to allocate $335 million to recycling lithium-ion batteries under the infrastructure bill.

Concerns about raw material shortages are driving private investments in battery recycling. Li-Cycle plans to open an EV battery recycling facility in Alabama capable of processing up to 10,000 tons (enough for approximately 20,000 EVs per year), and Ascend Elements is opening its first commercial-scale EV battery recycling facility in Georgia.

5. Reduced battery cost

The shortage of raw materials and battery components caused lithium-ion battery prices to skyrocket in 2022. In fact, a BloombergNEF survey reported a 7% increase in average box prices, the first increase since the survey began in 2010.

This has raised concerns among automakers, as the high costs associated with battery replacement are already recognized as the main obstacle to widespread EV adoption. Currently, the cost of EV battery packs typically ranges from $10,000 to $12,000, but as manufacturers rush to develop viable alternatives, that’s likely to change in the coming years.

For example, sodium-ion or lithium-sulfur batteries could be up to two-thirds cheaper than lithium-ion batteries.

More EV insights:

Photo credit: Southworks / Shutterstock.com

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