Introduction: Lithium Batteries and Climate Change
With pressure from voters mounting, many countries are announcing their intent to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century in an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change. Although not everyone is convinced by the ability of major economies to shift so rapidly towards a low-carbon system, there is a key element that will dictate their ability to reach these goals: lithium.
Evident in the skyrocketing demand for the integral component to the battery systems of electric vehicles (EVs) and large-scale energy storage, lithium will help determine the speed and success of the world’s shift towards sustainability. But how?
Decarbonizing the Transport and Energy Sectors
Net-Zero has been the slogan of choice of the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. Considering that 2020 set a new record for greenhouse gases, the window for mitigating climate change’s impacts is narrowing. The call for a drastic reduction of emissions has resulted in wide-ranging pledges to achieve a net-zero, or low-carbon operation. When consulting the latest discussions on the topics of net-zero or the energy transition, renewable energy dominates conversations.
However, renewables and lithium are intimately linked. The biggest roadblock in the continued implementation of renewable energy has been its intermittency – its inconsistent nature of energy production. Proponents for fossil fuels will point towards the inability of wind and solar to continually generate power on-par with coal or natural-gas fired plants. This base-load energy, or constant production of power, is what is responsible for an electrical grid’s stability.
With global energy demand continuing to rise, it has opened opportunities for lobbyists to dismiss wide-scale renewable implementation and push for ‘cleaner’ fossil fuels plants with lower carbon emissions, hydrogen, or nuclear. Yet renewable energy can match the production of their fossil counterparts by using large, or grid-scale lithium batteries. Capable of storing vast amounts of energy, lithium batteries are the perfect pairing for renewables, making the power sources more viable and cheaper while providing the base-load energy that fossil fuels rely on.
Pathways to Innovation
As the implementation of renewable energy continues to drop, and the lithium supply chain improves to meet demand, the energy storage sector is about to reach an apex where lithium battery storage and renewables become the de-facto pairing for grid energy. This is matched only by the rising demands for EVs, which also require lithium to power their batteries. In conjunction with their use in EVs, lithium batteries are revolutionizing the world. Their adoption as the go-to energy storage medium in both vehicles and energy systems will ensure a rapid transition, and continued development of the technology is certain to yield breakthroughs.
This is further emphasized by the inventors of the lithium battery John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino explain “Over the past decades, this development [lithium-ion batteries] has progressed rapidly, and we can expect many more important discoveries to come in battery technology,” the trio, who won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry continue, “These future breakthroughs will undoubtedly lead to further improvements in our lives, not only for our convenience, but also with respect to global and local environments and, ultimately, the sustainability of our entire planet.”
This perspective is shared by International Energy Agency Executive Director Faith Birol, who notes that “Energy storage will need to grow exponentially in the coming decades to enable the world to meet international climate and sustainable energy goals. Accelerated innovation will be essential for achieving that growth.” From the United Nations, to international scientific research groups, lithium batteries are seen as the future of sustainability. In Europe and the United States, energy storage is seen as a key factor in decarbonization for both the transport and energy sectors.
Conclusion: Lithium is Key to Global Reduction Goals
A wide range of global governments are now committing to net-Zero plans and highly reduced emissions targets to be met by 2070. This is matched only by the private sector, where companies like PwC are seeking to decarbonize at a much faster rate – by the turn of the decade. With more and more countries committing to these policies, there comes a need for rapid implementation of low-carbon solutions. Energy storage is prioritized by nations around the world to help stabilize their power grids and further adopt renewable energy, while EVs are being seen as the solution for sustainability within the transportation sector. Lithium is at the heart of these solutions. Lithium-ion batteries, whether for EVs or energy grids, figure to be heavily involved in the transition, and will be key in safeguarding the planet for future generations.