Designing Safer Lithium-Ion Battery For The Renewable Energy Industry

xlargeWith its strategic connections including Google Ventures, Seeo, a six-year old startup, recently established its solid, polymer-based lithium-ion battery system to store the energy produced by  solar panels. Seeo is currently in the process of commercializing these high-energy density, non-flammable batteries, which promise to be safer and dramatically lighter than the traditional lithium-ion batteries. Zintro experts share their opinions on Seeo’s future success in the renewable energy market.

According to Kevin F. Swartz, an expert in renewable energy, as more intermittent renewable energy plants are added to the electric utility system, problems will arise from the potential mismatch between electric power generated and customer demand. “Conventional lead acid and even Li-ion batteries have been added to the grid in conjunction with an intermittent renewable energy plant or as separate stand-alone facilities. However, battery technology has not had a widespread application due to concerns about both capital and operating cost,” notes Swartz. “When one examines wholesale electric markets, one finds that the market price paid for electricity generally follows the demand for electricity, which creates incentives for power generators to produce power during the periods of highest demand. Any incremental improvement in battery technology opens the door to a broader application in the market place.” Moreover, Swartz believes that Seeo has a promising technology, provided that they back up their claims with the appropriate warranty/guaranty package. “Seeo’s battery packs are of a standard size and have on board energy management. This approach has claimed advantages in terms of quickly replacing a defective unit and therefore lower operation costs,” he adds. “A well-structured request for proposal, addressing both commercial and technical terms in a clear and concise manner, should allow potential owners to quickly determine which technology best meets the needs of a specific application.”

Frank Berauer, an expert in high-tech manufacturing processes, argues that the current storage technologies don’t meet the requirements of growing renewable energy sources and the energy storage market is in critical need for breakthrough innovation. “Following Li-ion market trends over the years, I have encountered numerous announcements like the one by Seeo, and sadly most of them have come to nothing. Li-ion batteries are weak on two fronts: Price and safety. Safety can’t be assumed complete, despite the best available cells and numerous rounds of checks and tests,” explains Berauer. “An energy-packed device containing flammable and reactive Lithium plus organic materials just does involve dangers. Technologies that lower the risk usually come at a cost: Energy density and with it storage capacity goes down and/or price up.” Berauer finds it hard to believe that Seeo has dramatically improved safety and increased energy density. “It is not clear what advantage Li-Ion in stationary energy storage applications has over old-fashioned, cheaper and safer lead acid batteries. Li-ion’s higher energy density, and thus smaller size and weight for a given storage capacity, is seldom a major consideration when batteries will rarely move and can be installed in a basement or attic,” Berauer adds. “Seeo’s development might be a step in the right direction, but that alone will not assure its commercial success.”

As Atul Bhargava, an expert in solar energy indicates, the storage technologies currently being used require high maintenance and are not optimized for outdoor type energy storage use. “This becomes very much obvious in case of solar street lighting where the unreliability of the battery is the only reason for non-acceptance on a mass scale in this part of the world. A light-weight, high density battery is the right solution. However, it needs to meet the criteria of number of cycles, durability, lower maintenance and size. It also must have protection from self-discharge/aging as it may permanently damage the battery,” he explains. “Particularly with Li-ion batteries, it is expected that it shall come with the in-built protection circuit to maintain voltage and current within safe limits and no design changes are required at the charge controllers’ side. If Seeo products can come up to the above challenges, then I am sure it shall be a very successful company in this field.”

By Idil Kan