Newsletter: They could have been (battery) contenders

Every week is Battery Week here at Canary Media.

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Every week is Battery Week here at Canary Media, and this week David Roberts digs into the strivers, the long shots, the upstarts of the battery world.

Lithium-ion technology smashed all expectations for competitiveness and cost declines. But plenty of people anticipate those batteries won’t keep up with the needs of a largely solar- and wind-powered grid. They get too expensive once you need to store power for more than a few hours.

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David Roberts profiles the battery technologies waiting in the wings, like flow, zinc and liquid metal devices. Keep this story on file when for when you need a quick reference on what these ones are supposed to do better or worse than their peers.

In the five years that I’ve been covering the lithium-ion contenders, not much has changed. As Purdue University battery expert Rebecca Ciez comments in the story:

Flow batteries have been the next big thing for a really long time, but they’ve never quite gotten there.”

So why, you may well ask, does Canary Media insist on writing about these long shots that have yet to make a material impact, despite decades of trying and hundreds of millions of dollars spent?

David gets at this point in the final section, where he asks if we should worry about the very real possibility that lithium-ion batteries’ mass-produced march to low costs simply demolishes all other possible storage technologies.

Current market structures and the institutions that finance storage projects seem likely to deliver just that outcome. But the values of market structures today don’t necessarily reflect the needs of a drastically transformed energy system two or three decades from now.

If it is true that a) we will soon need more and longer-duration storage than [lithium-ion batteries] can provide, and b) LIBs currently have an unbreakable hold on the market, then perhaps the federal government should proactively take steps to encourage competitors to LIBs.

See where David comes down on this question, and tweet us your takes @CanaryMediaInc.

And if you know any up-and-coming battery experts waiting in the wings, tell them to subscribe to Canary Media to charge their career with daily news and analysis.

(Lead photo: AndyArmstrong licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.