Energy Storage Europe: Fraunhofer to launch ceramic battery

The launch of the Energy Storage Europe conference in 2018 (Source: Messe Düsseldorf / Protokoll)

The launch of the Energy Storage Europe conference in 2018 (Source: Messe Düsseldorf / Protokoll)

How can we learn from the past to change our future?

It’s a question we’ll all have asked over the years but, fear not, I only pose with storage in mind. I’m not going to channel my inner guru and take ESR in a self-help direction – but I will give life advice at inflated rates!

The philosophical-sounding question has been provoked by the news that, in March, the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies & Systems is due to launch its high-temperature ceramic battery at the Energy Storage Europe 2019 conference in Dusseldorf from 12th to 14th March. Fraunhofer’s system is called Cerenergy, and the institute has looked at the batteries of the past to inspire what it sees as the future of energy storage.

Energy Storage Europe 2019

Its system is based on sodium-beta alumina technology that was first developed and patented by the Ford Motor Company in 1972 for use as a car battery. The first patent for sodium-nickel-chloride batteries followed this in 1975; and was then modified and produced in the 1990s as a battery for use in buses and forklift trucks by AEG Anglo Batteries GmbH, before it was transferred to Italian firm Fiamm. In short, it has a long track record.

But why is this history lesson relevant? We chatted to Roland Weidl, head of Fraunhofer’s systems integration and technology transfer department, about the upcoming launch and its potential commercial applications.

While sodium-nickel-chloride was used for vehicle batteries, Weidl says the system was overtaken as an option for stationary batteries in the 1990s by the emergence of lithium-ion.

Weidl says: “In the 1990s everyone said: ‘Lithium ion, that sounds interesting, let’s look at this subject.’ And so they forgot about these other technologies.”

Weidl argues that lithium-ion does not work as a storage solution in every case. While it is good for fast charging and de-charging in mobile phones, laptop computers and cars, it is also not a good solution in every case.

For example, he says it’s expensive and would need air conditioning if it were to be used for large fixed systems, as well as requiring maintenance.

This is why Fraunhofer started work five years ago on its stationary battery system Cerenergy, which it said would cost less than €100/kWh at the cell level as it is based on common materials including salt. Read more here.

Weidl says: “It’s a very cheap battery because the core components are very cheap. We have sodium beta-alumina, which is very cheap, and if we look inside the cathode it is just nickel powder and table salt. The price is one aspect that made us start working on this battery type, and the second aspect is safety issues because this battery is very safe. Thermal runaway [uncontrolled temperature increase] is not possible with this battery.”

This means the battery doesn’t need air-conditioning, even in extreme conditions, and this leads to overall efficiency of over 90%. Its energy density is 130Wh/kg, and Fraunhofer also said it is a highly robust system with a service life of more than ten years and 4,500 cycles.

Commercial partners

These materials are contained in a large tube, which makes up one of the cells in the storage system; and Weidl says these cells work at around 300 degrees centigrade. In Dusseldorf, the institute will present a 5kWh system, and Weidl said these systems could range between 10kWh and 10MWh.

The institute is now set to work with an undisclosed commercial partner on pilot projects.

Weidl says: “It’s not so far a product, it’s a prototype, but in the next month we will start work with a company to go to market… We are looking for applications and have lots of potential customers.”

He says the long-duration potential of the battery means it would work well with renewables projects, including wind and solar farms, even in extremely hot countries due to the lack of need for temperature control. If the institute can deliver on this promise then it would be well-suited for deployment in emerging renewables markets in Africa, Asia, and central and south America. You can find out more about emerging markets for wind energy by checking out this special report.

The Fraunhofer solution may be rooted in the past but, with growing global interest in renewables, it could be well-suited to today’s challenges.

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