Lithium-ion batteries play a crucial role in modern society. At any given moment, we are surrounded by technology that uses them. One issue with lithium-ion batteries is their high costs, especially when applied to larger scale operations such as renewable energy storage. The invention of a different battery by Tokyo-based APB Corp is therefore significant, reports Bloomberg News.
Hideaki Horie founded APB Corp after leaving Nissan, setting out to create batteries entirely created from polymers. “The problem with making lithium batteries now is that it is like manufacturing semiconductors. Our goal is to make it more like steel production,” Horie said in an interview with Bloomberg. The potential cost of these batteries would be around 90 percent cheaper than its lithium counterparts. These savings could be important for Mexican renewable energy producers that often turn to battery storage to make their energy more competitive.
Costs for lithium batteries have been dropping steadily over the years, according to research by Bloomberg NEF. Drops are significant and only increase while efficiency and battery volume increases. When cumulative volume doubles, price reduces by 18 percent, as well. But as Horie notes, device-like production makes this a more labor intensive process. To make the core cell of a lithium-ion battery, so-called clean-room conditions need to be established. This requires significant investments for the manufacturer, as safety could be compromised when the necessary conditions are not met. Batteries bursting into fire have been at the heart of many reported incidents, after all. Bloomberg mentions that the investments, reaching billions of dollars, can often only be afforded by a few players in the market.
To make batteries cheaper to produce, APB Corp will switch out the complicated core of lithium-ion batteries with a simple resin construction. According to Horie, this makes the manufacturing of batteries as simple as “buttering toast.” APB has already raised US$74 million, which should be enough to get one Japanese factory ready for mass-production in 2021.
Nonetheless, polymers still face comparative disadvantages, meaning that for the foreseeable future, lithium-ion batteries will remain the industry standard. Lithium-ion will likely not be beaten in the highly competed automotive area, for instance. APB, however, aims to create so-called ‘stationary batteries’ first. This type of battery is used by power plants and large buildings, for instance. It is therefore not unlikely to soon see polymer batteries in action in Mexican powerplants as well.