Although the evolution of the lithium-ion battery has been slow in the past few years, there are some new opportunities and potential markets in the industry for companies to take advantage of, writes DR XIAOXI HE, Technology Analyst, IDTechEx.
Many interests have been raised within the battery business in 2015 through a number of activities: the launch of Tesla’s Powerwall with low prices supported by the capability of Gigafactory, Apple’s patent relating to charging and managing power in a device with solid-state batteries, LG Chem’s opening of a mega battery plant in Nanjing, Bosch’s purchase of polymer solid-state battery company Seeo, etc. Not to mention the tremendous number of investment, acquisitions, partnerships and joint ventures.
At the same time, new battery technologies are appearing continuously with descriptions like “doubled performance”, “charged in a few minutes”, “cost reduction of more than 70%”, making the public even more confused about the real breakthroughs. However, one can provide a clear perspective of emerging technologies, new opportunities and potential markets in the battery industry.
Opportunities can be found from different dimensions
Since the first introduction by Sony in the 1990s, lithium-ion batteries have become one of the most familiar and common battery technologies in our life. The involving technologies are relatively mature and the facilities are in place. With the expansion of existing manufacturing plants by battery giants such as Samsung SDI, LG Chem and Panasonic, economy of scale will be further achieved. However, with so many advantages, the improvement of lithium-ion batteries is slow compared with other electronic components, both in terms of performance and cost reduction. The liquid electrolyte used in the traditional lithium-ion batteries may cause serious safety concerns. On the other hand, with the development of wearable devices, printed electronics, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and electric vehicles, batteries with more features, more powerful performances and lower costs are required. Those factors have motivated players to find bigger opportunities.
Therefore, the battery industry is explored based on a number of different dimensions. Interests have been aroused in:
Thin-film batteries (based on thickness)
Micro-batteries and large-area batteries (based on size)
Flexible batteries (based on mechanical properties)
Special-shape batteries (based on form factors)
Printed batteries (based on manufacturing methods)
Solid-state, lithium anode, silicon anode batteries (based on technologies)
Energy storage system (ESS) and electric vehicle (EV) applications (based on applications)
All the areas listed above indicate new opportunities. Those areas may be influenced by each other and may have some overlap. For instance, batteries with better technologies may be used in ESS and EV applications, providing better safety and better performance. A thin-film battery is also flexible, and can be made by printing, or based on all solid-state components, or be very small. Market growth of these areas is affected by the costs. Except the last one (ESS and EV applications), the others are also limited significantly by technology maturity. The IDTechEx Research report “Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players” focuses on the first 4 areas as well as solid-state batteries with these features.
Further cost reduction may not rely on technology improvement
Battery technology improvement is based on electrochemical restriction and it is difficult to have sudden significant breakthroughs. In addition, a practical battery is a combination of many considerations including, but not limited to, energy density, power density, lifetime, safety and cost. Many press releases may emphasis one or several improvements but avoid talking about the others. Most existing commercial batteries are already based on relatively mature, proven technologies, but some of them are not well-known. Examples include thin-film solid-state batteries and printed batteries. As the battery development is a long and difficult process, future battery cost reduction are mainly rely on economy of scale, little on technology improvement.
Regulations and policies play a significant role in large deployment
In May 2013 the German market incentive program for battery storage systems was introduced which changed the residential battery installation structure immediately, with 2,700 installations to enjoy the incentives in 2013, jumping to 13,100 by 2015. Also, China’s decision to remove subsidies for nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries for electric buses also crucially influenced this industry. It indicated that for ESS or EV applications, self-sustainability has not been fully achieved and therefore policy changes can affect them greatly.
Batteries with new technologies will be tried in small gadgets first
Large devices or systems generally require high reliability and safety. Therefore, new battery technologies will tend not to be applied in them initially or in short-term period. Toyota, for example said in January of 2014 that it was working on solid-state battery technologies for cars, but the firm did not expect to have a product within a decade.
Apple also paid lots of attention in solid-state batteries, but it is focusing on portable electronics /wearables /MEMs applications. As early as 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office already published a patent application from Apple that revealed charging techniques for solid-state batteries. In early 2014, Apple bought all the patents from Infinite Power Solutions after it stopped trading, a company previous working on solid-state thin-film batteries. In November 2015, Apple published another patent related to thin-film solid-state batteries.
In solid-state lithium ion batteries, both the electrodes and the electrolyte are solid-state. Solid-state electrolyte normally behaves as the separator as well. It is safer, especially for those with inorganic solid electrolyte (all organic electrolytes are flammable, no matter whether solid or liquid). Solid-state electrolytes allow scaling due to the elimination of certain components (e.g. separator and casing). Therefore, they can potentially be made with a higher energy density. In addition, they are more resistant to changes in temperature and physical damages occurred during usage. Therefore they can handle more charge/discharge cycles before degradation, promising a longer life time. Due to the flexibility of the casing and without the limitation of liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries can be made into different form factors, sizes and shapes.
However, the ionic conductivities of solid-state batteries at room temperatures are generally low. In addition, they usually have high internal resistance due to the unstable solid electrolyte interface (SEI). Most solid-state batteries suffer from low C-rate and may not be able work at room temperature. Examples include 3000 taxis in France with solid-state batteries working at elevated temperatures. Also, solid-state batteries are much more expensive. The current low C-rate, low power makes them suitable to be applied in small devices earlier.
Thinness, flexibility and printed possibility will be the most addressed features
As new battery technologies will be applied in small electronic gadgets first, new features beyond traditional capabilities such as thinness, flexibility and printed Possibility will be addressed. According to IDTechEx Research in the report “Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Players”, there are other technologies that can make thin, flexible and printed batteries besides solid-state batteries, such as printed carbon zinc batteries and thin lithium-ion pouch batteries.
The total market of thin, flexible and printed batteries will reach $471 million by 2026. Most of those batteries are for small or mediate power devices and focus on form factor, thickness, size and manufacturing aspects, but they share technologies that can be used for other applications. Similar to the development roadmap of traditional lithium-ion batteries from consumer electronics to EV and ESS, batteries with new technologies may target consumer electronics as the initial entry. Even bigger opportunities for new technologies will come after approval in these applications.
For traditional battery technologies, demand is further created in the EV and ESS sectors as the growth in consumer electronics is approaching a plateau. Cost reduction is the key.
Mobile is the new branch
Standard Bank has launched an account for mobile devices that gives back 500MB of data a month
Standard Bank has introducd a R4.95p/m bank account called MyMo that customers can open on their mobile devices, loaded with data and airtime offerings and other benefits such as virtual and Gold physical card.
MyMo account holders will also enjoy the convenience of a cheque account through a Visa and Mastercard gold card. Once the account is open, users can choose to either receive R50 in airtime or 500MB of data a month, if their card is swiped more than four times a month. A further megabyte of data is loaded on the account for every R20 spent.
“MyMo is an account for everyone, whether you just landed your first job or have been around the block. With no documentation required it only takes a few minutes to open the account,” says Funeka Montjane, Chief Executive for Personal and Business Banking, South Africa, at Standard Bank Group. “For just R4.95 a month customer will be able to enjoy free swipes and ATM withdrawals at only R6.50 for amounts under R 1 000.
“Mobile is the new branch. This account is about bringing the mobile branch into customers hands, it is about convenience and security while banking.”
She says mobile offers low cost transactional banking which integrates people and businesses into the new connected economy, making mobile the new branch ecosystem that will drive and connect Africa’s growth. Physical connections to the economy are rapidly changing to digital where banks have to move from being financial institutions to service organisations.
“In the past people congregated in communities and eventually cities to maximise the advantages of connectivity. Today a simple hand-held device has the potential to open infinite doors, transforming individuals’ access to opportunities, regardless of where they are, and like never before in history.
“Historically, a bank account represented access to economic citizenship. Today, having a simple device enabling digital access to a modern banking platform is a passport to global connectivity and vast human development potential.”
The bank says it is using technology, and mobile phones in particular, to deliver low-cost transactional channels accessible to all our customers. The evolution in mobile can be seen in transaction options like cash back at the retail checkout till rather than the ATM, free digital banking rather than using a branch, and the ability to transact using digital wallets, even without a bank account.
“Developing comprehensive connected ecosystems requires a mind-set change from Africa’s banks,” says Montjane. “Banks will evolve away from traditional financial service organisations, into service ecosystems enabling broad universal access to almost everything like enhanced purchasing experiences of vehicles and homes, online procurement of goods and services and lifestyle elements like rewards and travel.
“These connectivity drivers will also act to future-proof evolving connectivity ecosystem by allowing us to offer untold future services while deriving income from as yet unrealised revenue streams,.
From a customer perspective, the kind of ecosystems of knowledge, access and, ultimately, connectivity that banks will come to provide will radically transform the share of life that almost all individuals will be able to access.”
Two-thirds of SA staff hide social media from bosses
With 90% of people in employment going online several times a day, it can be hard for most workers to keep their private and work-life separate during the working day (and beyond). The recently published Global Privacy Report from Kaspersky Lab reveals that 64% of South African consumers choose to hide social media activity from their boss. This secretive stance at work also extends to their colleagues, with 60% of South Africans also preferring not to reveal online activities to their co-workers.
Globally, the average employee spends an astonishing 13 years and two months at work during their lifetime. Interestingly though, not all this time is directly related to solving work tasks or earning a promotion: almost two thirds (64%) of consumers admit visiting non-work-related websites every day from their desk.
Not surprisingly, 35% of South African employees are against their employer knowing which websites they visit. However, more interestingly, 60% of South African are even against their colleagues knowing about their online activities. This probably means that colleagues constitute an even greater threat to future perspectives of an office slouch or maybe the relationships with colleagues are more informal and therefore, more valuable.
On the contrary, social media activity appears to be a less private domain for many and therefore, more suitable for sharing with colleagues but not the boss. This is probably because workers fear harming the public image of a company or interest in decreased staff productivity motivates companies to monitor employees’ social networks and make career changing decisions based on that. Such policies have led to 64% of South Africans saying that they don’t want to reveal their social media activities to their boss and 53% even don’t want to disclose this information to their colleagues.
A further 29% are against showing the content of their messages and emails to their employer. In addition, 3% even said that their career was irrevocably damaged as a consequence of their personal information being leaked. Thus, people are worried about how to build a favourable internal reputation and how not to destroy existing workplace relationships.
“As going online is an integral part of our life nowadays, lines continue to blur between our digital existence at work and at home. And that’s neither good nor bad. That’s how we live in the digital age. Just keep remembering that as an employee you need to be increasingly cautious of what exactly you post on social media feeds or what websites you prefer using at work. One misconceived action on the internet could have an irrevocable long-term impact on even the most ambitious worker’s ability to climb the career ladder of their choice in the future,” comments Marina Titova, Head of Consumer Product Marketing at Kaspersky Lab.
To ensure workers don’t fall prey of the internet threats at a work, there are some core guidelines to adhere to in the digital age:
- Don’t post anything that could be considered defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libellous. If in doubt, don’t post.
- Be aware that system administrators may at least, in theory, be informed about your web browsing patterns.
- Don’t harass, threaten, discriminate or disparage against any colleague, partner, competitor or customer. Neither on social networks or in messages, emails, nor by any other means.
- Don’t post photographs of other employees, customers, vendors, suppliers or company products without prior written permission.
- Start using Kaspersky Password Manager to ensure your social media and other personal accounts are not at risk of unauthorised access by someone else in an office. Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Security Cloud to protect your personal devices.