We interviewed Egbert Figgermeier, researcher at Forschungszentrum Jülich (Germany) and professor at RWTH Aachen University.

What are the major challenges battery technologies face in the coming 5 to 10 years?

After solving a lot of issues over the last 10-20 years regarding energy density, performance, power density... I think the biggest challenge is really raw materials, going into different chemistries, which replace scarce materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel... everything which we will need on the megaton scale. This will certainly be our biggest challenge, especifically in the light of the current world global situation.

What do you forecast for the coming energy storage industry in terms of mark et shares in the different segments?

If you talk about automotive and transport sector lithium-ion is, for the next 15 years, at least, unbeatable. We will see other active materials maybe lithium-ion replacing some other chemistries now, but lithium will be ahead. In other applications like trucks, buses and so on, also lithium-ion but maybe not the high-energy chemistries. Stationary will be a very different picture. If we go to scale there, we probably need other ions like sodium for example, and maybe some other more exotic materials which we don´t think of at the moment, but there will be a rapid development to be done.

What technological alternative to conventional lithium do you see as the most promising for the future of energy storage?

Well, what we see is that only sodium is a serious competitor at the moment. Other alternatives doesn´t seem to be mature enough; Sodium seems to be at the moment a hype, but we will see if that really materializes. I think lithium with other chemistries like late cobalt oxides might play an even bigger role in the near future. Stationary will be, I think, much more different story. Doesn´t need sodium-ion or something else or calcium, magnesium... we don´t know. The problem is really the scaling, building up the factories, finding a business-case also for them. With stationary we always have the problem that if you think about seasonal storage that you need, charge and discharge only twice per year that doesn´t make a business case, so you need to be extremely cheap or extremely subventioned to make this happen. So, that scaling will be in cost reduction, new business models... I think that will need a lot of innovation.

Do you think we will meet the target set by the European Commission to reach zero emissions by 2050?

We have to, I think. I don´t know if we can, if we look at this deal manufacturing and the concrete business and all this which is beyond electricity, I have no doubt that we can switch zero emission in electricity production but all the other sectors... also, farming, will have made the challenges and I´m not really sure... Maybe we will come to net-zero if we then find a way of capturing CO2, maybe grow more farms, more trees... whatever. But really to switch everything to 2050, will be tough; I´m not yet convinced, but we need to have a target.

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