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Beyond Lithium-Ion XII Imagines the Future of Next-Generation Batteries

NREL Hosted Twelfth Annual Symposium on Energy Storage

July 16, 2019

Say the phrase “renewable energy” out loud, and visions of electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines will pop up in the minds of almost everyone. Visions of batteries—the technologies that store energy and run our electric cars—will generally not even come to mind. However, energy storage technologies have the potential to revolutionize the energy landscape.

On June 25-27, leading researchers, industry representatives, and manufacturers met in Golden, Colorado, for the twelfth Beyond Lithium-Ion Symposium (BLI XII) to discuss next-generation electrical energy storage technologies. Today’s energy storage choice for many applications is currently lithium-ion batteries. This annual symposium provides the opportunity to consider a multitude of innovative alternatives that could lead to further breakthroughs needed to enable scalable energy storage beyond the current industry practices.

Man standing behind podium
NREL Laboratory Director Martin Keller delivers the keynote address on the first day of Beyond Lithium-Ion XII. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Storage Options for the Future

As the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) hosted this year’s gathering, it was only fitting that NREL Director Martin Keller would deliver the first keynote and set the stage for the three-day symposium.

“We need cheap, scalable energy storage technologies,” said Keller. “The biggest driver toward a high penetration of renewable energy will be storage.”

More than 140 audience members listened as Keller outlined his vision for a future in which there is huge population growth, increased urbanization and mobility, and increased electricity demand in all sectors.

Vincent L. Sprenkle, chief scientist of energy storage at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, delivered the opening keynote on the second day of the symposium, addressing the importance of improving the resilience of the grid and integrating renewables into that grid.

Even though lithium-ion batteries have opened the doors of opportunity for advances in energy storage, all participants at the symposium came together to discuss the question “Are they the right storage devices for the future?”

Casting a Wide Net

As a Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory, NREL is helping in a multi-pronged effort to improve and reduce the costs of energy storage technologies. During a poster session on the second day of BLI XII, NREL researchers joined others from across the national laboratory system to present their current research.

NREL research casts a wide net that could have great implications for transportation and the grid. Research topics presented included:

  • Development of vanadium redox flow batteries,
  • Advances in solid-state electrolytes,
  • Development of materials for sodium-ion batteries,
  • Evaluations of impacts of battery energy storage system functionalities on distribution systems,
  • Neothermal plasma synthesis,
  • CAEBAT modeling for improved electrode design,
  • Diagnosing the limitations of lithium-ion cell electrodes for fast-charging, and
  • Development of the REopt model for the optimization of storage and renewable energy systems.

This year’s BLI General Chair, Ahmad Pesaran, NREL’s chief energy storage engineer, collaborated closely with partners and within NREL to organize the symposium in Golden and opened up the discussion on the first day.

“NREL was pleased to host this successful meeting, and we were fortunate to have NREL Director Martin Keller outline the important role of scalable energy storage for the future of energy pathways,” said Pesaran. “We had support from 10 industrial partners and other collaborations, and the symposium produced great presentations and discussions and opportunities for networking.”

Innovations in Recycling

As NREL’s Shriram Santhanagopalan, team lead for Battery Materials Analysis and Diagnostics, took the stage, he joked that the BLI XII program committee had a sense of humor when they asked themselves “what’s beyond lithium-ion?” and answered with “the recycling of lithium-ion.” That said, a cost-effective solution for the recycling of lithium-ion batteries could be a crucial innovation in making scalable energy storage achievable.

NREL is taking a lead role in characterizing the materials in lithium-ion batteries, which could help facilitate large-scale recycling. As part of the ReCell Center, DOE’s first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center launched in February, NREL is building tools to evaluate how batteries degrade, how to rejuvenate them through relithiation, how to increase recyclability with thermal analysis, system dynamics, and supply chain modeling.

“Recycling happens on several scales: the battery pack, the cell, the electrode, and the particle,” said Santhanagopalan. “On each of these scales, we have to evaluate how good the batteries are and what recycling or reuse streams best suit specific battery types.”

Currently in the United States, lithium-ion batteries are only recycled at a rate of 5 percent because a full-scale solution for recycling lithium-ion batteries has not yet been demonstrated on an industrial scale.

“There are also challenges when it comes to collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting spent and discarded lithium-ion batteries in the United States safely and efficiently,” said Pesaran. “In order to address the logistical challenges associated with recycling, DOE is funding the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize—a $5.5-million prize competition in three phases.”

As the prize administrator, NREL is playing a role in lithium-ion battery recycling innovation—and hopes that the prize will encourage American innovators to play a role, too. The deadline to submit an idea is Aug. 1.  

Moving to Next-Generation

In 2009, IBM held the first BLI symposium, which led to the creation of the consortium that now meets annually to continue the work. The BLI consortium includes U.S. national laboratories—Argonne (ANL), Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Berkeley, National Renewable Energy, and Oak Ridge—as well as NASA and IBM Research.

“Energy storage is a vital technology where many innovations are being made each year. The BLI conferences focus on new approaches and recent advances,” said Ray Bair from ANL, who co-chaired the BLI XII program along with ANL colleague Lei Cheng.

NREL and other national labs, with novel thinking and by working together collaboratively, are enabling us to look beyond. The resulting innovations could very well be the game-changers we’re all waiting for.

Read the agenda and learn more about BLI XII. Learn more about NREL’s energy storage research.