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Are batteries the surprising key to unlocking decarbonisation for EVs?

Masataka Matsumura
Masataka Matsumura • 4 min read
Are batteries the surprising key to unlocking decarbonisation for EVs?
A step change in core battery technology for EVs could enable the seamless transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Photo: Unsplash
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The world is heating up at an alarming rate, with rising global temperatures wreaking havoc across the globe, including here in Singapore where we’ve had an unprecedented hot summer.

However, the heat does not stop at environmental damage; it extends its fiery grip to another crucial aspect of our fight against climate change: electrification. Specifically, to the batteries that enable electrification and our sustainable transitions away from fossil fuels.

The heat dilemma

It is no secret that extreme heat proves fatal to battery performance, reliability, and ultimately longevity. According to Apple, exposing a smartphone to temperatures above 35°C can lead to accelerated battery ageing and reduced capacity, drastically shortening its lifespan.

The problem of high heat is true for batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) as well. The hotter it gets under the hood, the higher the risk of battery failure. In the US, the American Automobile Association is said to have responded to 2.2 million battery-related service calls in the summer of 2020, up from 1.8 million in 2018.

A critical aspect of the problem lies in conventional battery technology, starting with electrolytes inside the battery. The electrolyte is the battery component that transfers ions — charge-carrying particles — back and forth between the battery’s two electrodes, causing the battery to charge and discharge. Higher temperatures mean a faster chemical reaction inside the battery, which in turn accelerates corrosion and increases gas release from its electrolyte.

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In lithium-ion batteries, which are the most common type of batteries we use today, this means a weaker charge-discharge cycle life performance. To make matters worse, dendritic growth (the metal projections that build up on the surface of the lithium battery) due to such high heat-induced electrolyte degradation can lead to short circuits between a battery’s electrodes.

In short, high heat conditions compromise battery performance, lifespan, reliability, and safety. This is not an ideal prospect as countries are actively exploring electrification solutions for their public and private transport systems.

Need for a stronger battery circular economy

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Very few batteries get recycled despite efforts towards this. A 2022 study found that less than 1% of lithium-ion batteries get recycled in the US and EU compared to 99% of lead-acid batteries, which are most often used in gas vehicles and power grids.

It would be fair to assume that even fewer get repurposed for second-life use. This is when a battery is deemed to have insufficient capacity to power its original EV application but more than enough to meet the requirements of stationary energy storage applications or comparatively low power-consuming devices.

Such multi-life use drives energy efficiencies by tangibly altering overall energy consumption patterns for the better and potentially reducing energy costs across the value chain. A report by McKinsey predicted that second-life batteries could be around 30% to 70% cheaper than new ones by 2025.

Businesses that can enable such paradigm shifts in battery lifespan efficiencies are already proving to be key to driving a sustainable battery circular economy. And in places like Singapore that must live with the reality of rising temperatures, developing batteries that last longer and can retain their performance even under hot conditions, will be the game changer.

Embracing the step-change

This is exactly the kind of holistic thinking driving decarbonisation start-ups like Singapore-based noco-noco, whose development of high temperature-resistant battery technology provides the necessary resilience to withstand extreme heat conditions.

Latest test results have shown that noco-noco’s X-SEPA separator technology, with a proprietary heat-resistant electrolyte, can extend the lifespan of conventional lithium-ion batteries by fivefold even at temperatures as high as 60°C. With a longer lifespan and better heat resistance, this solution could be instrumental in eliminating some of the most critical technology barriers preventing the widespread adoption of battery EVs and thus accelerating the transformation from fossil fuel power to renewable power.

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As the World Economic Forum’s report on a sustainable battery value chain in 2030 highlights, batteries are the cornerstone of decarbonisation efforts. In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority has committed to electrifying half its bus fleet by 2030 towards reducing peak land transport emissions by 80% by or before the mid-century.

However, if we fail to address the heat-related challenges faced by batteries, our progress in achieving tangible decarbonisation will be severely hindered, particularly in Singapore and neighbouring regions where rising temperatures might just become the new normal.

So, even as awareness around multi-life batteries grows and governments investigate optimal policies around battery recycling and upcycling, a step change in core battery technology could enable the seamless transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. This is where the logic leads. Now we must dare to follow.

Masataka Matsumura is the CEO of noco-noco

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