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Lead batteries not doomed but industry must work hard to secure its future

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 13:24 -- Paul Crompton

The future of lead batteries' fate is in the hands of the industry amid the looming threat of lithium-ion, delegates at the seventh International Secondary Lead Conference were told last week.

The place of lead batteries in the wider energy storage industry— especially amid growing lithium-ion deployment— was broached to industry experts during the on-line conference. 

The panel was asked if lead batteries were doomed to fail amid the rise of lithium-ion deployment.

Farid Ahmed (pictured), principal analyst lead markets at Wood Mackenzie, said: “Well, the answer is no, they're not doomed, but we have a job to do about ensuring that's the case.

“The destiny of the lead battery is very largely in the hands of a lead battery industry and the lead industry. 

“We can't compete with lithium-ion on performance in the straightforward battle like that, but there's other ways we can compete: we can compete on cost, and we can certainly compete and recyclability.”

Lithium-ion materials constraints

Ahmed suggested that cobalt and nickel, rather than lithium, would be a “very controlling factor” in the future of lithium-ion battery production.

He suggested the reasons for that included the lack of the nickel mine development and over reliance on cobalt supply chains from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has humanitarian concerns. 

He noted Wood Mackenzie estimates that total power generation in next 20 years would increase by 50%, and more than half of that would come from renewable energy, wind and solar.

Ahmed said: “We need somewhere to store the energy between the time it's generated and the time that it's consumed, and that's batteries. 

“So there's a huge increase in the total demand for battery capacity. Now if the capital cost of lead batteries is much lower than lithium-ion and all they do is sit on the ground and don't move it doesn't matter that they're heavier than lithium-ion.

“Plus the fact we have some fantastic new developments in lead batteries, particularly bipolar batteries, which are coming very close to fruition in the commercial production sense.

“Also excellent work is being done on improving the quality of oxides, the capacity, the longevity cycle life, all those sorts of things that we can really take the fight to lithium-ion in terms of performance and energy storage is a potential bonanza for all battery technologies, so lead isn't doomed. But we have to work on it to ensure that remains true.”

ILA speaks out

The sentiment was echoed by Dr Andy Bush, managing director of the International Lead Association.

His organisation works with the industry to understand where the market is going, what the end user demands are going to be, as well as what the improvements in lithium battery performance is likely to be. 

Bush said: “When we do this analysis, which we do multiple times each year, we deal with this question a lot. We always come to the conclusions that the reporting of the demise of lead is way, way off the mark.

“There’s no prospect of reduced demand for lead anytime in the foreseeable future. I think there are so many opportunities out there for lead batteries in what is a massively expanding energy storage market over the next few decades and the fact that we can offer a technology, which is safe, sustainable reliable, cost effective. 

“To be honest, I think that it’s currently unrivalled, and I think that will that will remain the case for many years to come.”

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