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Battery infographic series Part 2: Putting the battery in context

July 20th, 2016

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | July 20, 2016

The Battery Series will present five infographics exploring what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand and future applications.

Our energy problem: Putting the battery in context


In Part 1 we examined the evolution of battery technology. In Part 2 we examine what batteries can and cannot do, and the energy problem that humans hope batteries can help solve.

Batteries enable many important aspects of modern life. They are portable, quiet, compact and can start up with the flick of a switch. Importantly, batteries can also store energy from the sun and wind for future use.

However, batteries also have many limitations that prevent them from taking on an even bigger role in society. They must be recharged and they hold a limited amount of energy. A single battery cycle is only so long and after many cycles batteries begin to lose potency.

Therefore, to understand the market for batteries and how it may look in the future, it is essential to understand what a battery can and cannot do.

Energy density

The biggest difference between batteries and other fuel types is in energy density. Even the best lithium-ion batteries have a specific energy of about 250 watt hours per kilogram (Wh/kg). That is just 2% of the energy density of gasoline and less than 1% of hydrogen.

While it may be enough to power a car, it’s also magnificent engineering that helps makes this possible. Airplanes, ships, trains and other large power drains will not be using batteries in powertrains any time soon.

A renewable future?

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind face a similar problem—today’s battery technology cannot store big enough payloads of energy. To balance the load, excess energy must be stored somehow to be used when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Currently, industrial-strength battery systems are not fully developed to handle this storage problem on a widespread commercial basis, though progress is being made in many areas. New technologies such as vanadium flow batteries could play an important role in energy storage in the future. But for now, large-scale energy storage batteries are experimental.

Other energy storage technologies may also solve this problem:

  • Chemical storage: Using excess electricity to create hydrogen fuel, which can be stored

  • Pumped hydro: Using electricity to pump water up to a reservoir, which can be later used to generate hydroelectric power

  • Compressed air: Using electricity to compress air in deep caverns, which can be released to generate power

Solving this energy storage problem will pave the way for future renewables use on a grander scale.

The sweet spot

Therefore the sweet spot for battery use today comes when batteries can take advantage of their best properties. Batteries can be small, portable, charged on the go and provide energy at the flick of a switch.

It’s why so many rechargeable batteries are used in electronics, laptops, smartphones, electric cars, power tools, start-up motors and other portable items that can benefit from these traits.

To assess the suitability of a particular type for any specific use, there are 10 major properties worth looking at:

  • High specific energy: Specific energy is the total amount of energy stored by a battery. The more energy a battery can store, the longer it can run

  • High specific power: Specific power is the amount of load current drawn from the battery. Without high specific power, a battery cannot be used for the high-drain activities we need

  • Affordable cost: If the price isn’t right for a particular battery type, it may be worth using an alternative fuel source or battery configuration for economic reasons

  • Long life: The chemical makeup of batteries isn’t perfect. As a result, they only last for a number of charge/discharge cycles—if that number is low, that means a battery’s use may be limited

  • High safety: Batteries are used in consumer goods or for important industrial or government applications—none of these parties wants batteries to cause safety issues

  • Wide operating range: Some chemical reactions don’t work well in the cold or heat—that’s why it’s important to have batteries that work in a range of temperatures where it can be useful

  • No toxicity: Nickel-cadmium batteries are no longer used because of their toxic environmental implications. New batteries to be commercialized must meet stringent standards in these regards

  • Fast charging: What good would a smartphone be if it took two full days to recharge? Charge time matters

  • Low self-discharge: All batteries discharge small amounts when left alone over time—the question is how much, and does it make an impact on the usability of the battery?

  • Long shelf life: The shelf life of batteries affects the whole supply chain, so it is important that batteries can be usable many years after being manufactured

There are many pros and cons to consider in choosing a battery type. The more pros that a given battery technology can check off the above list, the more likely it is to be commercially viable.

Now that you know what batteries can and cannot do, we will look at the rechargeable battery market in Part 3 of the Battery Series.

See Part 1 of the battery infographic series.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Battery infographic series Part 1: The evolution of battery technology

June 22nd, 2016

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | June 22, 2016

The battery series will present five infographics to inform investors how batteries work, the players in the market, the materials needed to build batteries and how future battery developments may affect the world. This is Part 1, which looks at the basics of batteries and the history of battery technology.


Battery infographic series part 1 The evolution of battery technology


Today, how we store energy is just as important as how we create it.

Battery technology already makes electric cars possible, as well as helping us store emergency power, fly satellites and use portable electronic devices. But tomorrow, could you be boarding a battery-powered airplane, or be living in a city powered at night by solar energy?

Battery basics

Batteries convert stored chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Batteries have three main components:

(-) Anode: The negative electrode that gets oxidized, releasing electrons.

(+) Cathode: The positive electrode that is reduced, by acquiring electrons.

Electrolyte: The medium that provides the ion transport mechanism between the cathode and anode of a cell. It can be liquid or solid.

At the most basic level, batteries are very simple. In fact, a primitive battery can even be made with a copper penny, galvanized nail (zinc) and a lemon or potato.

The evolution of battery technology

While creating a simple battery is quite easy, making a good battery is very difficult. Balancing power, weight, cost and other factors involves managing many trade-offs, and scientists have worked for hundreds of years to get to today’s level of efficiency.

Here’s a brief history of how batteries have changed over the years:

Voltaic pile (1799)

Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, in 1799, created the first electrical battery that could provide continuous electrical current to a circuit. The voltaic pile used zinc and copper for electrodes with brine-soaked paper for an electrolyte.

His invention disproved the common theory that electricity could only be created by living beings.

Daniell cell (1836)

About 40 years later, a British chemist named John Frederic Daniell would create a new cell that would solve the “hydrogen bubble” problem of the voltaic pile. This previous problem, in which bubbles collected on the bottom of the zinc electrodes, limited the pile’s lifespan and uses.

The Daniell cell, invented in 1836, used a copper pot filled with copper sulphate solution, which was further immersed in an earthenware container filled with sulphuric acid and a zinc electrode. The Daniell cell’s electrical potential became the basis unit for voltage, equal to one volt.

Lead-acid (1859)

The lead-acid battery was the first rechargeable battery, invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Planté.

Lead-acid batteries excel in two areas: they are very low-cost and they can also supply high surge currents. This makes them suitable for automobile starter motors even with today’s technology and it’s part of the reason $44.7 billion of lead-acid batteries were sold globally in 2014.

Nickel cadmium (1899)

Nickel cadmium batteries were invented in 1899 by Waldemar Jungner in Sweden. The first ones were “wet cells” similar to lead-acid batteries, using a liquid electrolyte.

Nickel cadmium batteries helped pave the way for modern technology but they are being used less and less because of cadmium’s toxicity. The batteries lost 80% of their market share in the 1990s to batteries that are more familiar to us today.

Alkaline batteries (1950s)

Popularized by brands like Duracell and Energizer, alkaline batteries are used in regular household devices from remote controls to flashlights. They are inexpensive and typically non-rechargeable, though they can be made rechargeable by using a specially designed cell.

The modern alkaline battery was invented by Canadian engineer Lewis Urry in the 1950s. Using zinc and manganese oxide in the electrodes, the battery type gets its name from the alkaline electrolyte used—potassium hydroxide.

Over 10 billion alkaline batteries have been made in the world.

Nickel-metal hydride (1989)

Similar to the rechargeable nickel cadmium battery, the nickel-metal hydride formulation uses a hydrogen-absorbing alloy instead of toxic cadmium. This makes it more environmentally safe—and it also helps increase the energy density.

Nickel-metal hydride batteries are used in power tools, digital cameras and some other electronic devices. They also were used in early hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius.

The development of nickel-metal hydride spanned two decades and was sponsored by Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen AG. The first commercially available cells were in 1989.

Lithium-ion (1991)

Sony released the first commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991.

Lithium-ion batteries have high energy density and a number of specific cathode formulations for different applications. For example, lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2) cathodes are used in laptops and smartphones, while lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) cathodes, also known as NCAs, are used in the batteries of vehicles such as the Tesla Model S.

Graphite is a common material for use in the anode and the electrolyte is most often a type of lithium salt suspended in an organic solvent.

The rechargeable battery spectrum

There are several factors that could affect battery choice, including cost. However, here are two of the most important factors that determine the fit and use of rechargeable batteries specifically:

Think of specific energy as the amount of water in a tank. It’s the amount of energy a battery holds in total. Meanwhile, specific power is the speed at which that water can pour out of the tank. It’s the amount of current a battery can supply for a given use.

And while today the lithium-ion battery is the workhorse for gadgets and electric vehicles, what batteries will be vital to our future? How big is that market? Find out in the rest of the battery series. Parts 2 through 5 will be released throughout the summer.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

See Part 2 of the battery infographic series.

Canada and the mining world

February 5th, 2015

Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

by Greg Klein

Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

Clusters of Canadian mining activity. (Map: Mining Association of Canada)


Peak gold has already been called by a number of prominent observers. But without sufficient investment to spur exploration, the world faces declining resources of many other minerals too. At the centre of the conundrum sits Canada, home to one of the world’s most bountiful mining jurisdictions and many of its most important miners and explorers. Even so, the country faces five key challenges according to a Mining Association of Canada report released February 4.

Called Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry, the research relies largely on 2014 and 2013 data but emphasizes Canada’s stature in the world of mining. Over 800 Canadian companies currently explore more than 100 countries. Firms with Canadian headquarters accounted for nearly a third of global exploration spending in 2013.

Canada leads the world in mining finance, with the TSX listing 57% of the world’s publicly traded mining companies. The 331 miners raised $5.6 billion in 2013. Another 1,287 Venture-listed miners and explorers pulled in $1.3 billion the same year. “Together, the two exchanges handled 48% of global mining equity transactions in 2013 and accounted for 46% of global mining equity capital that year.” Impressive as that sounds, however, the dollar figures are declining. By May 2014 almost 60% of Canadian-listed juniors were down to less than $200,000 in working capital.

As a result, MAC points out, exploration’s share of spending has been shrinking, “indicating a shift toward defining known deposits and away from the riskier discovery of new ones.” Estimates for 2014 suggest that only 36% of exploration budgets went to actual exploration while the rest went to appraising more advanced projects.

In the current economic environment, the industry is focused on reducing costs, improving productivity and preparing for the next upswing.—Pierre Gratton, president/CEO of the Mining Association of Canada

Apart from resources unearthed by Canadians abroad, this country’s own share ranks Canada among the world’s top five countries for production of 11 major metals and minerals, MAC states. Canada comes in first for potash, second for uranium and cobalt, third for aluminum and tungsten, fourth for platinum group metals, sulphur and titanium, and fifth for nickel. With diamonds, Canada ranks fifth by volume and third by value.

As for gold, silver, zinc, copper, molybdenum and cadmium, Canada remains in the top 10 but once held top five positions. In part that slip reflects a 30-year decline in the country’s proven and probable reserves, especially in base metals. “Since 1980, the most dramatic decline has been in lead (97%), zinc (83%) and silver (79%) reserves, while copper (37%) and nickel (65%) reserves have fallen significantly as well,” MAC reports.

The news isn’t all negative. “Since 2009 gold, silver, zinc and copper reserves have increased, with copper levels not seen since the early 1990s and gold at record levels.” But that doesn’t appear to reflect a long-term trend. “Recent commodity price fluctuations and the corresponding difficulties junior miners are facing in raising capital indicate continued concern over the depletion of proven and probable reserves for the majority of Canada’s deposits.”

The group foresees “only a handful” of major Canadian projects coming into production over the next five years, a result of exploration cutbacks during the 1990s and early 2000s. Global exploration has also declined in recent years. Looking a little farther ahead, though, “this gap is slowly closing.” MAC counts over 100 advanced Canadian exploration projects identified from 2011 to 2014 among those that could “contribute to the $160 billion in potential mining investment Canada could see over the next five to 10 years.”

But standing in the way of that potential are five key challenges, the report cautions. Global economic trends have hit many commodity prices hard. Yet MAC takes an optimistic view of medium- to longer-term prospects from China, India and other emerging countries.

Among the hurdles of Canadian investment are the increasing difficulty of finding new discoveries, operating deeper mines, paying higher energy costs and meeting new regulatory requirements. To help overcome lagging productivity, MAC wants more government funding for mining R&D.

Canada’s regulatory burden comes across as an increasingly complex maze. MAC warns that new legislation will likely increase the number of necessary federal approvals. The group calls for greater co-ordination between federal agencies and their provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as between government agencies and aboriginal and public consultation.

Developing undeveloped regions of course calls for infrastructure. A separate MAC study found that building and operating a remote, northern mine costs from two to 2.5 times the cost of a similar mine down south. To lessen the burden, the group calls for tax incentives, infrastructure investments and public-private partnerships.

Finally, there’s the need for new faces. The Mining Industry Human Resources Council says the industry will need 121,000 new workers over the next decade. That number doesn’t even take into account an estimated 53,000 retirements over the same period, according to MAC. Where to look for replacements?

Not far, apparently. “Approximately 1,200 aboriginal communities are located within 200 kilometres of some 180 producing mines and more than 2,500 active exploration properties,” the report notes. While mining’s already proportionately Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives, “addressing the human resources challenge will take a large and co-ordinated effort by the industry, educational institutions and all levels of government in the coming years.”

MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton said, “In the current economic environment, the industry is focused on reducing costs, improving productivity and preparing for the next upswing.” In his statement accompanying the report he added, “We are confident about the future demand for our products and the Canadian mining industry is focusing on getting in shape now to seize the growth opportunities ahead of it.”

Download Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry.


Resources and expertise keep this country at the forefront. But challenges remain

Geographical distribution of Canada’s mining assets in 2012. (Map: Mining Association of Canada)