The battery business is booming. With the exception of lead-acid batteries outside China, disposal and recycling is often out of control. Just one example is the 30 billion button batteries made yearly and used in everything from talking gift cards to medical equipment. Lead acid batteries have a positive value to recyclers and strict laws also make users act responsibly. However it is likely that the lithium-ion batteries replacing lead acid and making new things possible such as acceptable electric vehicles will often have negative value to recyclers. The cost of the battery can be more than half the cost of the vehicle be it car, boat or plane.
Governments, manufacturers and other interested parties agonise about what to do as multiple gigafactories spew out vast numbers of lithium-ion batteries that almost always die before the life of the equipment in which they are placed and they are linked to toxins, fires and other nasties. As the world moves to structural electronics instead of the nostalgic old components-in-a-box designs, the batteries are holding up the party because even solid state ones tend to swell and shrink with each cycle, bursting a smart structure apart.
Time to think the unthinkable: abandon batteries.
If that sounds like science fiction bordering on the lunatic, think again. It is not just your designer watch using the old clockwork: it is well advanced in electronics and electrics. EnOcean GmbH in Germany and the EnOcean Alliance thought that replacing batteries in 30,000 wireless building controls in your typical large building was not a bright thing to attempt on a regular basis. They therefore offer the necessary actuators, sensors and transceivers in wireless building controls based on electrodynamic, thermoelectric and photovoltaic energy harvesting. Their strapline is "No hassle, no wiring, no batteries". EnOcean GMBH are presenting at the upcoming conference Energy Harvesting Europe in Berlin, 10-11 May 2017.
Thanks to a super-efficient powertrain and special CIGS solar roof, the Nanowinn Technologies microbus in China has no batteries. Like a lizard, it wakes up with daylight and, although it only travels slowly that is fine for operators only using it in daytime and wanting to demonstrate the very best life and green potentials plus much lower cost buy. No plugging in of course. This is an Energy Independent Electric Vehicle (EIV).
Let us now go to a third, radically different use of batteries. Those seeking an alternative to noisy, vibrating, polluting and increasingly illegal diesel gensets choking us with acid gases and particulates and causing global warming are turning to wind turbines, solar and ... large batteries to compensate for the intermittency. We have all seen wind turbines becalmed for days on end.
However, the new Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) consisting mainly of tethered drones and kites seems likely to be a better alternative for gensets and even for off-shore wind farms replacing power stations because it taps the winds at twice to five times the height of conventional wind turbines. It goes where winds provide four times the energy. Such AWE systems use one tenth of the materials and do not need massive foundations. However, this may be missing the most important AWE benefit of all which is that those higher winds are much more consistent. Think of AWE combined with photovoltaics and preferably one other complementary form of energy such as wave power and you could have no batteries in a zero emission, lowest cost genset! As power demand surges, up go the autonomous tethered drones to where the wind blows almost always.
IDTechEx has examined most of these components and systems and it offers consultancy and reports such as Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) 2017-2027, Energy Harvesting: Off-Grid Microwatt to Megawatt 2017-2027, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026, Structural Electronics 2017-2027: Applications, Technologies, Forecasts, Internet of Things (IoT) 2017-2027 and Energy Independent Electric Vehicles Land, Water, Air 2017-2037.
We recommend getting away from the paucity of vision that has organisations such as the Advanced Propulsion Centre in the UK largely supporting piston engine research and universities and research centres worldwide rarely thinking beyond batteries. Let's have scientists, economics professors, industrialists, government planners and the rest spending at least some of their time targeting a "World Without Batteries". For the timorous, many examples are already out there to inspire.
All of this technology will be covered in detail at Energy Harvesting Europe (www.IDTechEx.com/europe), in Berlin, 10-11 May 2017, bringing together the complete value chain, from technology developers to integrators to end-users, providing insight on market trends, latest products and emerging technology toolkits.