Potential and challenges of alternative battery technologies

Global demand for batteries is currently mainly met by lithium-ion batteries (LIB). However, as demand increases, particularly due to electric mobility, so do the challenges in terms of raw material availability and geopolitical dependencies. This is leading to an increased focus on alternative battery technologies.

Lithium-ion batteries: Status quo and prospects

The current annual demand for lithium-ion batteries is around 1 terawatt hour (TWh). Forecasts indicate this demand will be 2 to 6 TWh by 2030, and could rise to up to 10 TWh in the long term. The main driver of this development is the switch from combustion engines to electric mobility. Today, electric vehicles account for over 70% of battery demand, and this share will continue to rise, due in part to the electrification of commercial vehicles and their use in new areas such as drones and other aircraft.

Alternative battery technologies: an overview

A variety of alternative battery technologies are currently being researched and developed to reduce dependence on lithium. Some of the most promising are metal-ion, metal-sulphur, metal-air and redox flow batteries. These technologies offer different advantages and pose specific challenges.

Sodium-ion batteries
Advantages: Sodium is available in abundance worldwide and is inexpensive. These batteries are safer and perform better at low temperatures compared to lithium-ion batteries.
Challenges: Lower energy density and cycle life compared to LIB.

Lithium-sulfur batteries
Advantages: Higher gravimetric energy density than LIB.
Challenges: Larger volumes and lower volumetric energy density, limited number of cycles.

Metal-air batteries
Advantages: Potential for very high energy densities.
Challenges: Complex technical requirements, such as the development of suitable electrolytes and gas diffusion electrodes.

Redox flow batteries
Advantages: High scalability and flexibility in use.
Challenges: Lower energy density, extensive infrastructure requirements.

Technological maturity and market development

The various alternative battery technologies are at different stages of maturity and offer different market potential. High-temperature sodium-sulphur and redox flow batteries are already well developed and are being used in specific applications. Other technologies such as zinc-, magnesium-, or aluminum-ion batteries are still under development, but show great potential, especially due to the better availability of these raw materials in Europe.

Sodium-ion battery: a promising candidate

The sodium-ion battery has proven to be particularly promising. In 2023, the Chinese battery manufacturer CATL announced production for electric vehicles, and European companies such as Northvolt are already developing stationary applications. Due to its properties and availability, this technology could play an important role in the future battery landscape.

Building a resilient battery ecosystem

A robust and technologically independent battery ecosystem in Europe requires not only the development of alternative battery technologies, but also the establishment of corresponding supply chains and production capacities. Strategies to reduce dependencies on raw materials, such as the expansion of recycling capacities and the reduction of production waste, are essential. Political incentives could help to support the market establishment of new technologies.

The future of battery technology

While lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate the market, alternative battery technologies offer important additions and can reduce dependence on lithium. The further development and market launch of these technologies will make a significant contribution to creating a sustainable and resilient battery ecosystem.

Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI: Alternatives to lithium-ion batteries: potential and challenges
Northvolt: Northvolt website