Emerging Technologies

5 battery storage innovations helping us transition to a clean energy future

Solar panels in a field in Germany.

Improving battery storage is vital if we are to ensure the power of renewable energy is fully utilised. Image: Unsplash/Andreas Gücklhorn

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Energy Transition

  • The use-it-or-lose-it nature of many renewable energy sources makes battery storage a vital part of the global transition to clean energy.
  • New power storage solutions can help decarbonize sectors ranging from data centres to road transport.
  • Several battery technologies are being helped to scale with the support of the World Economic Forum’s UpLink Innovation Ecosystem.

Efficient energy storage is a vital part of efforts to break our long-held dependence on fossil fuels and embrace a cleaner future.

As part of the global energy transition, a number of battery technologies are being pioneered that can store surplus renewable power and boost efforts to decarbonize sectors ranging from data centres to road transport.

Here are some of the battery storage solutions from UpLink Top Innovators and others, which could help us achieve a net-zero emissions future.

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Lithium-ion batteries with an organic element

The race to decarbonize is putting severe strains on the supply of rare metals and minerals needed for battery storage and other energy transition technologies.

Research shows the new design could be produced at a lower cost than conventional lithium-ion batteries, but have capacity to conduct electricity at a similar rate to cobalt batteries.

“It is already competitive with incumbent technologies, and it can save a lot of the cost and pain and environmental issues related to mining the metals that currently go into batteries,” said Mircea Dincă, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT, referring to the new design.

Electrifying commercial vehicles

UpLink Top Innovator, Evolectric Incorporated, creates purpose-built vehicle and battery solutions that aim to increase take-up of e-mobility transport.

Integrating circular economy principles into contemporary EV technology offers vehicle fleet owners a way to upgrade their existing commercial vehicles with sustainability in mind, without the expense of buying new vehicles.

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Storing surplus energy in the sand

Nature can lend a hand when it comes to finding ways to store surplus energy from renewable sources, which is mostly generated on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

Vatajankoski power plant in Finland houses the world’s first commercial-scale sand battery, which uses 100 tonnes of low-grade sand of too-poor quality to be used in construction.

Power from Finland’s wind and solar power installations runs a resistance heater inside the sand battery, which generates heat that is distributed through heat exchange pipes by a fan to keep the thickly insulated sand warm.

At a maximum 600C constant temperature, the sand battery can store 8 megawatts of thermal energy, which is enough to provide heating and hot water to about 100 nearby homes and a community swimming pool when supplemented by grid power.

Although the battery stores between 5 to 10 times less energy (per unit volume) than most chemical batteries, no chemical reaction takes place so it is non-flammable, easy and cheap to maintain and has a much lower environmental impact than lithium-ion alternatives.

Share of renewable electricity generation by technology, 2000-2028.
Almost half of global electricity generation is expected to come from sustainable sources by 2028. Image: IEA

By 2028, renewable energy could account for 42% of global electricity generation, according to an International Energy Agency forecast, emphasizing the importance of efficient electricity storage solutions.

Making power portable

Versatility sits at the heart of the lithium-ion phosphate batteries developed by Uplink tech start-up Posh Electric, which was one of the winners of the UpLink Yes San Francisco, Urban Sustainability Challenge.

Battery docks for use in camper vans, RVs, mobile homes and more, provide a portable and sustainable alternative to diesel-powered generators used to power on-the-road plug-in appliances, such as induction hobs.

The company embraces a circular economy approach to manufacturing, which focuses on recycling and reusing existing battery parts.

“We are trying to make any storage of batteries in particular more accessible and very easy to use. Our mantra is that the batteries should be plug-and-play and we want to make batteries as a drop-in replacement for portable generators,” company founder and CEO, Wesley Zheng, told the World Economic Forum.

“When we first design the batteries, we have already taken into consideration how we can efficiently disassemble the battery at the end of its life,” he said.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Mobile storage for sustainable cities

Another UpLink Yes San Francisco, Urban Sustainability Challenge winner, Moxion has developed the world’s first fully electric alternative to a fossil fuel generator.

The company manufactures the most energy-dense battery system in the world, which has capacity to store 600kWh of energy in a mobile generator that attaches to a truck. The powerful unit is small enough to fit through a set of double doors, so it’s compact, portable and a reliable source of emissions-free electricity wherever it’s needed.

These are just a few of the inventive ways that battery storage solutions are helping both the energy transition and the global quest to decarbonize our future. Who knows what other solutions lay in store?

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Emerging TechnologiesEnergy Transition
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