By 2040, the energy storage market will attract over $622 billion in investment. The 2017 World Bank report, "The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future," estimates that global production of the critical minerals required to manufacture lithium-ion batteries will need to increase substantially by 2050 to achieve a net-zero emissions economy, by nearly 1000% for lithium, by over 500% for cobalt, and by over 100% for nickel. Canada is the only nation with confirmed resources for all battery components and has significant potential to ramp up production in order to develop a domestic battery industry that produces and exports battery materials and technologies from primary, secondary and tertiary sources.
The National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Advanced Clean Energy program's Energy Storage Materials and Devices team seeks to enable electrification in electricity generation and end-use by developing next-generation storage materials and devices. Specifically, the NRC works across the value chain with partners in other government departments, industry and academia on:
- battery metals production and processing
- battery materials and components
- battery recycling, state of health and state of charge
- battery safety and performance testing
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Battery metals production and processing – The program works on the development and optimization of battery metals production technologies. Materials of interest are Canadian-specific materials such as lithium brine from spent oil wells in Alberta, the production of lithium, nickel and cobalt salts from Canadian sources, the co-production/processing of vanadium electrolytes with minimal impurities, and natural flake graphite for use in battery anodes and cathodes.
Battery materials and components – The NRC's work in this area reflects the larger trends toward higher performance, increased durability, and increased safety through the development of new membranes/separators, investigation of cathode-electrolyte interfaces, and battery management systems. Our current research focusses on the evaluation and improvement of battery properties such as capacity retention, cyclic stability, specific capacity and current density, and rate performance within wet lithium cells, flow batteries, and the development of next-generation solid state battery technologies.
Battery recycling, state of health and state of charge – An increasing volume of end-of-life batteries are starting to appear on the market, due to consumer e-waste and used electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Looking forward, the volume of cells is expected to dramatically increase as rapid cost reductions have enabled the deployment of a significant number of EVs and stationary storage systems, of which the first systems are currently getting to end of life. Our activities in this space involve:
- improving the ability to understand the state of health of these batteries, to determine if the cell should be reused in alternate applications such as stationary storage or backup, remanufactured into a new pack or module, or sent for large scale recycling
- assisting in the development of standards related to the shipment of end-of-life cells, and improvement and optimization of battery recycling processes themselves.
Battery safety and performance testing – The NRC works with both industry and other government department partners in the evaluation of battery performance and safety. This includes:
- modelling and experimentation to identify high-risk failure scenarios for testing the safety of lithium-ion cells
- thermal abuse testing
- early detection for lithium-ion batteries' thermal runaway based on gas sensing
- experimental studies on suppression of fire and explosion of lithium iron phosphate batteries by inert gas amongst others
Collaborators have access to a wide range of facilities that can be used to perform component-level validation, manufacturability assessment and improvements, materials evaluation and development, and accelerated testing. The following facilities are available in the NRC's national labs:
Storage evaluation facilities
- Energy storage component cyclers
- Thermal chambers
- Fire and containment facilities
Storage materials fabrication and characterization facilities
- Dry room
- Electrode fabrication facilities
- Materials synthesis labs
- A wide range of characterization equipment (e.g. XRD, TEM, SEM, XPS, TGA, XRF, NMR)
- Energy storage systems lab
- Testing facilities
- Cluster computing resources