“Energy storage needs to be built to last”: Aceleron on storage systems

“The energy storage industry needs to think carefully about the entire life cycle of its products now, rather than waiting until it becomes a necessity,” says Carlton Cummins, CTO and co-founder of cleantech firm Aceleron.

Energy storage is widely accepted as a viable solution to the challenge of how we access more renewable energy. The sector is still in the relatively early stages of development so it is a critical time to consider how we build energy storage solutions that will create minimal waste, whilst also being as financially accessible as possible.

Just like in the automotive industry, where rules on mandatory recycled content for new vehicles are in place, the energy storage industry will be expected to assume responsibility for their products' end of life pathway. Realistically, the challenges being faced by the automotive industry now are what we are likely to face in the future so we might as well face up to this now, instead of waiting until we are forced.

There are a number of manufacturers working on energy storage systems, both as part of large, grid-scale operations and for smaller, residential installations. The development of these technologies can only be seen as a good thing but what will happen when these products fail? How will they be replaced and where will the disused products end up?

Taking a circular economy approach 

The materials used in energy storage are valuable. Lithium, which we are becoming increasingly dependent on, is a finite resource; and rising in cost as demand outstrips supply. It also requires an energy intensive mining process so we have a duty to maximise our use of this precious resource.

There are currently sleek, integrated systems that are technologically impressive and desirable and which will undoubtedly significantly increase our access to renewable energy. However, the integrated build means that battery modules are permanently sealed into the product. One small failure within the system, which will happen at some point, and the entire system will need replacing. Because of this integrated build, the likely outcome for the replaced product is to be crushed for material recovery which is wasteful, harmful to the environment and expensive.

Taking a circular economy approach to energy storage, where the individual components can be removed for repair and/or repurposing is critical to reducing the wastage of materials. Energy storage needs to be built to last, using materials that can easily and efficiently be repurposed for second, third and hopefully fourth life applications.

Similar to aluminium, which can be recycled and repurposed multiple times before it cannot be used again, we at Aceleron have developed a compression technology that enables batteries to be taken apart and rebuilt. Each part that is removed can be repaired, replaced and/or upgraded. Removed parts are eligible for repurposing into other battery products or recycled for their raw material.

Accessibility and efficiency

There are premium products on the market such as Tesla’s Powerwall which works with other Tesla products to capture and store renewable energy. There is undoubtedly a market for this premium, ‘walled garden’ approach and the products are very impressive. However, they can only be accessed by buyers with a reasonable sized budget who are prepared to purchase another product when the existing one fails.

For energy storage to really work hard for the initial investment, there is an additional need for a more accessible product that will retain its residual value. By optimising Aceleron’s energy storage products for third party monitoring and control, we hope to open up energy storage products to a wider market, keeping ongoing costs as competitive as possible.

Building an energy storage system that can be serviced and maintained rather than removed and replaced is the answer to building longevity into the market. Making it upgradeable also means that it will keep pace with advances in technology. Developing a ‘trickle down’ model for the battery market, where products start with a really premium application that can be repurposed again and again before the materials are recovered is the key to maximising the use of their raw materials.

At the end of the day, battery waste is going to become a very serious problem if we don’t look at ways to enhance product longevity now and this is something Aceleron is working hard to educate the wider energy community about.

Main image: Carlton Cummins. Credit: Aceleron