Under the magnifying glass: No energy transition without new battery technologies!

The battery or the accumulator are an integral part of our life today. We find them in electric cars and energy storage devices, smartphones and tablets or pacemakers. This makes battery technology one of the key technologies of the energy transition. It helps us to store regenerative energies and to do without fossil raw materials.

In addition, production capacities will increase significantly. By 2030, around a quarter of the global electrical power forecast will be generated in Europe alone. The battery market in Europe and Germany therefore has great economic potential.

But what technical challenges need to be mastered and what contribution is North Rhine-Westphalia making?

Volta's first battery, the Voltaic Pile
Photos: SShorn is under-licensed CC BY-NC 2.0.

Technical challenges

What does an ideal battery actually look like? It is durable, sustainable, safe, can be charged quickly and costs little. And of course this battery doesn't exist yet. For the leap into the age of electromobility and sustainable energy use, however, we need new battery technologies. They should do as little as possible without critical raw materials and use renewable energies.

Here are some areas of focus in battery research:

  • Battery Chemistry: Battery chemistry is at the core of battery research as it focuses on the development of new materials and processes to improve the energy storage capacity and power density of batteries. Research is currently focused on chemical systems such as lithium-ion, lithium-sulfur, sodium-ion, solid state batteries and others. The solid-state battery, for example, offers a lot of energy in a small space with little weight. This is particularly interesting for electric vehicles. 
  • Safety and Sustainability: Batteries can contain potentially hazardous chemicals and are often difficult to recycle. Therefore, battery research also focuses on the development of safe and sustainable batteries that are harmless to both the user and the environment.
  • Energy saving in production: Some production stages in battery production are particularly energy-guzzling. This is of particular importance, since we are usually talking about production in the gigawatt range. The individual process steps in the production of batteries consume a lot of resources. Particularly energy-intensive work steps are, for example, the formation (electrochemical commissioning of the battery cell) and the subsequent maturing of the battery cells.
  • Automation and Scalability: Battery production often requires high levels of automation to increase production efficiency and quality and reduce labor costs. Production scalability is another challenge as the need for batteries will increase sharply due to growing demand.

Overall, battery research focuses on improving battery performance, lifespan, safety and sustainability to enable wider use in various applications.

What's what?

Drums: Generic term for energy storage, also as a designation for one not rechargeable Energy storage devices (calculator, hearing aids or smoke detectors) are used.

Battery(mulator): batteries that rechargeable (mobile phones, laptops, electric vehicles or pacemakers)

Energy: Energy is a physical quantity that describes a system's ability or potential to perform work or emit heat. The actual generation of energy is not possible because the law of conservation of energy states that Energy can neither be created nor destroyed can, but only can be transformed into other forms.
(Example: when coal is burned, the chemical energy stored in the carbon molecules is converted into heat energy, which is then converted into steam to power turbines that drive a generator that produces electricity.)

energy storage: Systems that absorb energy with the aim of electrical, chemical, electrochemical, mechanical or thermal storage and make it available again for delayed use.

Inventor of the battery: Alessandro Volta. Around 1800 he elicits electricity from discs of copper and zinc layered in brine; the so-called voltaic column is considered the forerunner of today's batteries.

The word battery: The term itself originally comes from the military field and described a series of combat-ready cannons and their operating crew. Consequently, a battery consists of several objects placed next to each other (originally just cannons), which together achieve a higher potency.

The battery market in North Rhine-Westphalia and Germany must become more self-sufficient

The increased further development of the various batteries and energy storage systems is also driven by the desire for a more independent power supply - especially as the demand for high-performance batteries and energy storage systems will increase sharply.
So far, many battery technologies have come from the Far East. Global crises such as the corona pandemic have made it clear that the European and German economy must become more independent in key technologies. The order of the day is: technological sovereignty. Germany and Europe must be able to understand, produce and further develop key technologies. Therefore, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has reformulated the priorities in this key technology. The Battery research umbrella concept is designed to enable close collaboration between research and industry, investment in new technologies and processes, and continuous improvement in manufacturing practices.

The future of the battery comes from Münster

In principle, almost all production steps for the manufacture of battery materials and cells can be set up by German companies in Germany. In contrast to the Asian market, however, there are no companies in Germany that (can) act as general contractors for the construction of entire production lines and factories with their plant technology. In addition, there is currently still a lack of know-how and practical experience from the continuous operation of battery cell production.
Therefore, the umbrella concept for battery research also includes the founding of the Fraunhofer facility research production battery cell FFB in Munster. It provides an infrastructure with which small and medium-sized companies, but also large companies and research institutions can test, implement and optimize the series production of new batteries.

Coating of the copper foil with active material (tipper) (anode and cathode of the battery) in the Fraunhofer FFB workspace / Photo: © Studio Wiegel

NRW Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst recently handed over the building of the so-called "FFB PreFab" to the Fraunhofer Society for the Promotion of Applied Research e. V.. This is now starting to install the user systems on a research area of ​​around 6.450 square meters and is gradually starting research operations. In the "FFB PreFab" a sample line for the complete battery cell production is set up on a pilot scale, which represents an important intermediate step on the way to industrial scale.

Specialists wanted!

The European and German battery cell industry is clearly currently in a crucial ramp-up phase. dr Thomas Paulsen from the Fraunhofer FFB even predicts that "Europe, but especially Germany, will become a battery hotspot in the next few years".

And of course, how could it be otherwise, we also encounter the issue of skilled workers in this industry.
Phillip Suttmeyer, from the Fraunhofer FFB, assumes that by 2025 there will be a need for around 800.000 battery-related jobs in Europe. Along the entire battery value chain, around 100.000 - 200.000 job profiles require in-depth battery knowledge. The majority of jobs require retraining of the existing workforce in the industry. But there is also a need for further training of management and key battery experts, especially with regard to digital skills, an understanding of the systemic value chain, the circular economy and the management of large-scale projects and infrastructure.

People who work in battery research and production mostly come from the following technical fields: mechanical engineering, production engineering, process engineering, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering and information technology.

Based on current dynamics, 2025 to 2030 battery experts will be needed on the European labor market for the years 40.000 to 70.000. In total, around 2021 - 20.000 battery experts were available to the European market in 30.000. This is why there is a great need for future battery experts with a rapidly growing trend.

Therefore, the Fraunhofer FFB builds in European Battery Cell Learning Laboratory (ELLB) on. The ELLB is intended to become a learning platform for training and further education offers around the cosmos of the battery cell and battery cell production. Meanwhile, webinars as well as seminars and workshops are already being offered in Münster for knowledge transfer. The ELLB acts as a cross-institutional platform that includes expertise from the entire Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft as well as from colleges and universities in knowledge transfer.

Researchers at Fraunhofer FFB mix the coating material for the battery / Photo: © Studio Wiegel


The proverbial jack-of-all-trades in energy storage and distribution will probably not exist. But there is no alternative to investing in new battery technologies and the corresponding specialists. Overall, failure to develop new battery technologies would prolong our dependence on fossil fuels and limit the use of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and portable devices.

However, if you take into account how quickly technical progress is progressing and that the invention of the battery was only 200 years ago, we can also look positively to the future in terms of energy supply. Alessandro Volta would certainly be "electrified" by the current state of the art.

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