25 April 2018

How Lithium ion batteries are changing the transportation sector

Nearly forty years ago a team of researchers led by John Goodenough at Oxford University invented a new battery that relied on Lithium ions to mediate the electrochemical processes.

Initially the invention was largely ignored, after all who needed a new battery type. Eventually the invention was picked up by Sony who wanted a new battery type for their cameras. Their CCD-TR1 camcorder went on sale in 1991. 26 years later Lithium ion batteries are a 40 billion dollar industry (with a double digit CAGR) and worldwide manufacturing capacity is around 40-50GWh with up to 200GWh of capacity predicted in 2020. They are driving a transformative change in our society as they enable us to electrify our transportation sector, integrate intermittent renewables into our energy grids and allow the widespread adoption of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This technology also presents large opportunities and challenges for Siemens.

Breaking new grounds in green electric mobility

Although Siemens does not produce smart phones or electric cars, Lithium ion is still finding many applications within the Siemens portfolio. Currently there are several development teams worldwide developing large electric vehicular systems such as – electric planes (Hungary), electric ferries and ships (Norway), electric buses and trucks (Germany), trains (Germany).

Reducing emissions and cutting operating costs – just two of the benefits for electrically powered passenger and vehicle ferries.

In addition there are teams looking at integrating massive (10’s of MWs) batteries into our electrical grids or integrating them into power stations, wind farms or solar farms. There are even teams looking at the digital arena and how we can offer new services (energy trading, optimised charging….) to de-risk this new technology for our customers. At the heart of these systems is a lithium ion battery, a technology which offers unparalleled energy storage density but at the same time technical challenges in its use.

In subsequent blogs I will take a look at some of the Siemens applications, talk to the development teams and discuss how they are dealing with these new challenges, I will also take a look at the effect this technology is having on our infrastructure, considering seemingly simple questions such as “What happens when we all have electric cars and we go shopping to an out of town complex – can we charge everyone’s cars at the same time?”

Related links:

Energy storage technolgy

Energy storage trends

How electromobility shapes the future of transportation, battery production and storage systems

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