Lithium-Ion Batteries: Costs Down, Benefits Up [PODCAST]

The price of lithium-ion batteries has plummeted over the past decade. Battery pack prices averaged $1,160 per kWh in 2010, according to BloombergNEF, but they dropped to $176 per kWh last year, and experts suggest they could be less than $100 by 2024.

Tony Cooper, general manager of Green Cubes Technology’s Motive division, was a guest on The POWER Podcast. Listen to the interview below.

In it, Cooper explained why prices have been coming down.

“Basically, the production capabilities—the production process—I think that’s the number one driver in bringing down the cost of lithium [batteries], economics of scale. The other thing though, it’s not just the production, it’s also the process of getting the raw materials. So, the production process of mining, the production process of refining those minerals, and then also, of course, the production process of making the cell, even to making the battery pack. I mean, all of these processes are being refined,” Cooper said.

“And the quality’s there, because it’s all highly automated—everything is precision measured—so, nowadays, you’ve got great quality of cells coming out at a huge rate,” Cooper added.

Although Cooper suggested it’s getting harder and harder to optimize the production process for battery cells, he said there is still room for improvement in systems. “There’s lots of things that can be done to keep improving from a system-level efficiency,” he said.

Repurposing lithium battery packs offers value for the power grid. Although electric vehicle (EV) battery packs reach a point in which they are no longer suitable for use in cars, the packs still have great capacity for purposes in which space is not a limitation. Mercedes-Benz Energy, for example, has incorporated EV battery packs into the electric grid at several sites.

“Second life is a huge thing for lithium,” Cooper said. “With lithium, you have a very good end of life or cycle life, where it’s very linear. It doesn’t have a waterfall, where just all of a sudden it stops working like lead-acid. It’ll really be very linear. So, a pack that has 50% capacity has a lot of energy that can be put into applications which don’t require small spaces or have room for them.”

The benefits of lithium-ion over lead-acid batteries are quite significant, too. Cooper noted that one of the biggest benefits revolves around maintenance.

Lithium-ion batteries require zero maintenance. “And we really mean zero maintenance,” Cooper said. “Lithium batteries take no special side operations. No one’s needed there to tighten bars down, water, or anything like that. It’s really zero maintenance, so it’s a huge benefit.”

Another benefit is energy savings. Cooper said charging lithium-ion batteries can save 20% or more compared to lead-acid, and there’s also greater efficiency during discharge. Lithium technology performs better in cold-temperature operations. Cooper said lead-acid batteries can lose up to 50% of their capacity when temperatures drop to freezing and below, while lithium still operates well. Furthermore, heaters can be effectively placed on lithium-ion batteries, as there is less mass to warm. Another drawback of lead-acid batteries is that they can leak acid and release hydrogen gas, whereas lithium designs are sealed and clean.

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Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).