The marketThe world market for batteries will reach in 2011 nearly $74 billion. The Chinese market is the largest and growing the fastest. The United States represents approximately $15 billion in turnover, good for 15 billion batteries. The expensive batteries enjoy the highest growth. The world market for materials to make batteries is expanding to $3.8 billion for the same year. The value added generated from mined metals to produce a finished product is nearly factor twenty. Making and selling batteries is definitely a profitable business. While car batteries are nearly 100 percent recycled, it has been estimated that some 40 billion batteries will end up in landfills this year. This means that about $ 2 billion worth of precious and scarce metals will be discarded. Whereas the first battery dates back two thousand years, it was Thomas Edison who created the first alkali battery with a power of 1 to 1.35 V. Today, electric power from batteries is calculated in Joules equals one Watt per second, or one Watt equals one Joule per second. One Watt per hour thus represents 3,600 Joules. The world market of batteries has evolved tremendously over the past few years, from the lead-acid ones that cost $0.17 per Wh, the cheapest and the one that gets the car going, to the nickel-cadmium battery that costs nearly ten times more ($1.50), and the mid-range type made from lithium ion which is the standard used in the Nissan electric vehicle with an associated cost of $0.47 per Wh. Few people realize that a kilowatt hour of electricity from the battery can cost 100 to 500 times more than the power from the grid. Society is prepared to pay a high price for mobility. The largest size energy storage battery was built by ABB in Fairbanks, Alaska. The massive nickel-cadmium battery provides 40 MW, enough electricity for 12,000 people for up to seven minutes. The smallest battery is 2.9 mm by 1.3 mm, the size of a pencil tip and can be charged for up to 10 years.
A major drawback for batteries is weight. Lightweight batteries are a priority for the industry. The refueling of batteries by pumping a rechargeable electrolyte instead of having to replace or recharge a whole unit is another innovation that is eminent. The arrival of the vanadium- based battery that could be recharged at least 10,000 times is another breakthrough, even though the medium is in short supply to satisfy world demand. However, batteries are limited in terms of mining, recycling, and sheer energy potential. One kilogram of crude oil represents 50 MegaJoules (MJ) of energy while one kilogram of lead-acid batteries can only generate 0.1 MJ of power, or 500 times less. This explains why energy from batteries is so expensive, and why the recovery of excess electricity into a storage battery power will always face a competitive disadvantage. Weight for weight, even the best batteries in the world could theoretically only generate 6 percent of the power that petroleum offers. Les batteries légères sont une priorité pour l’industrie.
Professor Bo Nordell from the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden had long been impressed with the capacity of water to store heat. He studied thermal energy storage and realized that one cubic meter of water can contain 334 MJ or 93 kWh of heat. The opportunity to either use ice, storing the energy from freezing winter months, or to use water heated by solar (See Case 53), represents a cheap storage mechanism that operates very efficiently when applied at a larger scale with minimal infrastructural cost. There is no limit in the number of recharges. Prof. Nordell supported Kjell Skogberg’s doctoral thesis which lead to the building of the world’s first snow cooling plant in Sundsvall, Sweden for the main city hospital, exploiting the coolness embedded in snow collected during the winter.