Battery Power in an Electrified World

Advanced rechargeable batteries are a strategic imperative for the industrial and social revolution towards a more empowered and sustainable society. They are key for decarbonization in mobility and energy generation, and have become a major job engine around the globe.

Battery Power in an Electrified World

Advanced rechargeable batteries are a strategic imperative for the industrial and social revolution towards a more empowered and sustainable society. They are key for decarbonization in mobility and energy generation, and have become a major job engine around the globe.

Battery Technology

Batteries are made of assembled unit cells and come in different siz­es and shapes. Portable batteries, for example, contain just several cells, while large industrial batteries can consist of hundreds of cells assembled in modules. The sound functioning of these modules, and hence the battery’s performance, is managed by sophisticated elec­tronic management systems, so-called BMS. BMS monitor and control important data and processes to prevent the battery from working outside its safe operating mode.

Depending on what a battery is used for, the technical features – and thereby material composition and battery morphology – vary. Some battery applications require lightweight, others high power or very fast charging cycles. Important breakthroughs in battery technology and continuous improvements have led to a vast number of battery-powered applications.

What are rechargeable batteries?

All batteries transform chemical energy into an electrical one. Rechargeable batteries, also called secondary batteries, can be used up to some thousands charge and discharge cycles. Thanks to their chemical properties, rechargeable batteries can restore their original composition – giving power to plenty of modern-life applications, again and again. Some of these applications are:


In turn, primary or disposable batteries cannot be recharged since their chemical reactions are not reversible. They are mostly used in portable devices that have low current drain, are used only intermittently, or are used well away from an alternative power source, such as in alarm and communication circuits where other electric power is only intermittently available. In general, primary batteries have higher energy densities than rechargeable batteries but do not fare well under high-drain applications with loads under 75 ohms.


  • Zinc–carbon batteries
  • Alkaline (AA and AAA) batteries
  • Lithium-manganese batteries
  • Lithium-based batteries
  • Lead-based batteries
  • Zinc-based batteries
  • Nickel-based batteries
  • Sodium-based batteries

The European Battery Industry

Europe accounts for approximately 3% of the global cell and battery manufacturing capacity today. In turn, annual EU battery demand is estimated at €250 billion from 2025 onward and expected to create some 250,000 new jobs by the end of 2030. To boost European battery cell manufacturing, the European Union launched the European Battery Alliance in October 2017. To make “Europe a global leader in sustainable battery production and use”, industry partners, RD&I as well as EU Member States joined forces to create a sustainable, competitive battery manufacturing value chain in Europe.

A Flagship Industry for Social and Economic Prosperity

Although most of the raw material sourcing, and cell and battery manufacturing still takes place outside of Europe, European companies own a significant portion of the intellectual property and technological know-how in the battery industry. Europe has also managed to develop a strong presence in the battery pack assembly and waste treatment sector, and offers solid funding opportunities as well as a skilled workforce. In conjunction with high environmental and social standards, this makes Europe an ideal market for a thriving battery industry.



Lithium-based batteries have seen a tremendous uptake in the last years, with an annual market growth exceeding 160.000 MWh in 2018 alone.

While lithium-based battery technologies are still in the mid of the classical development curve and further technological advancements are expected in the coming years, they drive growth rates in the classical battery markets powertools and internet-of-things as well as in emerging markets such as electric mobility and stationary energy storage.

Lithium-based battery technologies use lithium ions as the charge carrier. Depending on the application’s technical requirements, lithium is used with various chemistries such as graphite for the anode as well as nickel, manganese or cobalt oxides for the cathode. All these materials have good lithium insertion or intercalation properties, allowing to store large amounts of energy.

Main lithium-based battery technologies are:

Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LCO), Lithium Nickel Oxide (LNO), Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide (NCA), Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC), Lithium Manganese Spinel (LMO), Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP), Lithium Titanate (LTO)

New lithium-based technologies are on the horizon, such as lithium sulfur (Li-S) or solid-state lithium-ion which use new solid electrolytes.

The Lithium Material:

Lithium is an alkali metal that can be found in South and North America, Europe, Australasia, China, Russia and Africa.

It is the lightest metal on earth.

Due to its high reactivity, lithium-based batteries may generate exothermic reactions in case of damage or abuse and are therefore classified as Dangerous Goods for transport. This results in specific packaging and transportation requirements.

Market Segments and Applications:

Rechargeable lithium-based batteries are primarily found in market segments where their high energy and power density as well as their superior cycling ability create value.

Portable:

  • Electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets
  • Power Tools

E-Mobility:

Lithium-based batteries are the product of choice for electric and hybrid vehicles in which high energy and power density, as well as high cycling abilities are important.

  • Hybrid-Electric Vehicles
  • Electric Vehicles

Stationary:

They are also the preferred electrical energy storage technology for large renewable energy farms in which smoothing functions are required along with ancillary services to the network (frequency regulation, primary power regulation). These requirements normally place a high demand on the battery cycling ability.

  • Large renewable energy power stations
  • Supply of ancillary services to the electrical grid

Others:

  • Satellites/aerospace

Technical Characteristics:

Housing :

  • Hard case cylindrical or prismatic housing: these cells generally apply an aluminium can with laser-welded or crimped cover. They contain liquid electrolyte.
  • Soft case or pouch cells: these cells use a thin aluminized plastic bag, glued with different type of polymers for the tightness. In general, they contain electrolyte in a polymer, reason why they are often called “lithium-ion polymer”.

Typical voltage: 2.4-3.8V

Benefits: These batteries combine high energy density with high power. They have a long life and are maintenance-free. Their cost has been declining tremendously over the years, too.


Zinc-based battery technologies are an attractive alternative to other main advanced rechargeable battery technologies, since they employ a cost-effective and abundant material as anode that can be readily recycled.

Zinc-based batteries can be found in both primary as well as rechargeable battery types and can be categorized into alkaline or saline, aqueous or non-aqueous (organic), zinc-air, zinc-ion, and others. They always use zinc for the anode and an aqueous electrolyte. Depending on the battery technology, the cathode material can be based on manganese, iron, nickel, vanadium or oxygen, for example.

While zinc-based batteries have been on the market since the late 19th century, rechargeable zinc batteries for large-scale deployment in e-mobility and energy storage are still at an early stage of industrial development.

The Zinc Material:

Zinc is one of the most abundant materials in the world, with main reserves in China, Australia and Peru. It is the fourth most common metal in use, with applications in ceramics, glass, nutrition, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, electronics, plastics, rubber and energy generation/storage.

Zinc is essential for all living beings. It is highly recyclable too.

Market segments and applications:

Thanks to its good disposition for oxydoreduction, zinc is a highly suitable anode material for advanced rechargeable battery technologies. Still mostly used in primary alkaline and zinc-air batteries for consumer applications, rechargeable zinc-based battery technologies can be increasingly found in e-mobility, telecommunication as well as in off- & on-grid stationary energy storage and industrial power systems today.

Technical Characteristics:

Housing: Metal casing

Typical Voltage: 1.45V

Benefits: High-end zinc-based battery systems can offer low material cost, high energy and power density and a performance advantage over other stationary battery technologies. Thanks to its abundance, zinc as battery anode material ensures long-term availability and can be readily recycled.


Nickel-cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries have been the preferred battery chemistries for powertools and other portable appliances such as radios, cameras or cell phones for many years. Because of its energy density features and storage capacity, nickel is an essential component for the cathodes of many other secondary battery designs too, including lithium-ion.

Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries use nickel in the cathode and either cadmium or a hydrogen-storing metal alloy in the anode, as well as potassium hydroxide (KOH) or another alkaline material for the electrolyte, such as lithium hydroxide (LiOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaHO).

NiCd batteries can supply extremely high currents and can be recharged rapidly, while NiMH batteries have a higher energy density.

The Nickel Material:

Nickel is a transition metal with a long history of human use. It is hard and corrosion-resistant and one of four ferromagnetic metals.

It is the fifth most common element on earth and can be found in Canada, the US, Brazil, Russia, Finland, Greece or Asia Pacific, amongst others. It is used across a series of different applications, especially in stainless steel, plating or alloys.

Nickel can be fully recycled.

Nickel-based batteries are classified as Dangerous Goods for transport if they contain free alkaline electrolyte.

Market Segments and Applications: 

Nickel-cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries are mainly used where long life, high discharge rate and low cost are important. Main applications are in wireless communication, power tools and mobile computing. These batteries are especially suited for electrically or mechanically arduous applications such as generator starting, hybrid electric vehicles or starting aircrafts. Nickel metal hydride batteries have also replaced primary alkaline batteries in some applications.

Technical Characteristics:

Housing: steel or plastic container

Cells are equipped with a reversible safety valve because they are prone to high pressure release in case of misuse or damage.

Typical voltage: 1.2V

Benefits: These batteries show a long cycling life with intermediate energy density. They can be used at very low temperatures, and when sealed, they are entirely maintenance-free.


Sodium-based battery technologies are an attractive alternative to other main advanced rechargeable battery technologies, since they employ cheap and abundant electrode materials. They are, however, at the early stages of development and industrial deployment. Sodium-based batteries use liquid sulfur for the cathode and sodium (Na-S battery) or nickel chloride (Na-NiCl2 battery) for the anode, normally embedded in a solid or molten electrolyte.

Sodium–sulfur battery

The sodium-sulfur battery applies a ceramic tube or container of beta-alumina solid as electrolyte (BASE), acting as a membrane between the positively charged sodium and the negatively loaded sulfur. While the BASE membrane will conduct the sodium ions in the discharge phase, it will block the sulfur, which, in turn, will be absorbed by a carbon ponge.

Sodium-nickel chloride battery

Sodium-nickel chloride batteries utilize molten sodium aluminum chloride as the electrolyte. The  sodium-conducting beta-alumina ceramic is, once again, used to separate the liquid sodium from the molten electrolyte material. To keep them ready for use, sodium-nickel chloride batteries are typically continuously kept hot so that they remain molten.

The Sodium Material:

Sodium is a highly abundant, inexpensive alkali metal. It is water-soluble and very reactive. Pure sodium must be protected from water or oxidizing atmospheres.

Market segments and applications:

Because of their high operating temperatures and the highly corrosive nature of sodium, sodium-sulfur batteries are mainly used for stationary applications, such as stationary energy storage systems connected to the grid. Sodium-nickel chloride batteries, in turn, are suitable for use in electric mobility such as in hybrid electric buses, trucks or vans.

Technical Characteristics

Housing: Steel casing

Benefits: Sodium-based batteries are a cost-effective storage solution with no maintenance needs and a long lifetime.