We interviewed Patrice Simon, Professor of Material Science at the Université III Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France.

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

In terms of application, for sure, this is the electric mobility but, also, grid storage, which is something, to my opinion, which makes a lot of sense now taking into account all the political and geopolitical issues with the energy supply, and so on… So, we need batteries to buffer, to store electricity for renewables and so on…

Then, regarding the technical challenges, I think that the most important challenge, here, today is the development of solid-state batteries. Because this is the only way to move beyond 450 or to reach 450-500 Wh/kg.

This is highly challenging because of some limitations, mainly interface reactivities and so on. But one of the key issues is the development of the solid-state batteries’ technology.

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

This is highly desirable; highly suitable, for sure. I would like to believe in it. I don’t know if we will make it, because there are some alternative energies which are CO2 emission free, like nuclear power and so on. So, I think that it’s going to be super-difficult to reach the goal. Also, we have some political issues and regarding batteries… Batteries will definitely help decarbonation of energy, but we must be aware also that batteries are using some critical materials. So, one of the questions will be how batteries will be able to develop within this context of a geopolitical issues and criticism of materials and so on.  

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

I am not going to be vey original because I believe that lithium-based batteries are going to be there for next decade and maybe beyond. It is very difficult to stop thinking about a system without lithium, but I would say, if you are talking about cathode, lithium-sulfur could be a very good option with solid-state electrolyte. And then, if we dream, we could dream about aqueous zinc-air batteries, but will be a great objective, but so far there are still issues.

If we are talking about grid storage, redox flow batteries can do a job as well. You can use vanadium which is also a kind of critical material, but there are plenty of alternative redox couple that you can use. And also, for grid storage, sodium-sulfur it’s a good alternative despite it is a high-temperature.  

My final answer will be that lithium is there for long; we can think about different cathodes, still using lithium metal, and if you want to shift completely from lithium, it is going to be a use breakthrough, then we can think about calcium, magnesium and aqueous batteries.

What would you say are the strengths of CIC energiGUNE as a research center?

I follow CIC energiGUNE for years, and I believe that it is unique… at least in Europe is a very important center because it mixes together high-level research and technology. I would say that in this research topic, which is batteries, we can not do only basic research without being interested in how you make a battery. And this is why CIC energiGUNE has so many skills and so many talented people. It’s a super excellent center in batteries and for the next year I believe that will be heard about CIC energiGUNE for a while.

How would you encourage young people to go for a career in the energy storage sector?

This is now, that everything is happening in batteries.

I am working in batteries since my PhD in 1995, and it is that only in the past few years that this became so huge… There is enthusiasm for batteries, fundings are there, jobs, which is the key for young people… I mean, gigafactories are hiring a lot, so this is really the time.

So, if are interested in the future, fighting against CO2 emissions… come to do your studies in the battery field, because, first, it is a super interesting field, and then you will get a lot of opportunities for jobs, for entering in Academy and so on. So, join!

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