Edison Energy recently sat down with Dr. M. Stanley Whittingham, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science at the State University of New York. Whittingham is the recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering research leading to the development of the lithium-ion battery. He serves as Vice Chair of the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) and from 2011-2020 served as the Director of DOE-EFRC NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage at Binghamton University.
Known as the ‘Founding Father’ of lithium-ion batteries, Whittingham has been involved in battery technology for 50 years. He first worked on the solid electrolyte beta alumina at Stanford, later working at Exxon, where his research led to the commercialization of the world’s first rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Whittingham holds 15 U.S. Patents related to batteries. Since 1988, Whittingham has focused on R&D on advanced materials for the electrodes of lithium batteries.
Last year, U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Charles Schumer announced that Binghamton University’s New Energy NY (NENY) Project had been selected by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) as one of the nation’s first awardees for Phase 1 of the American Rescue Plan’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
The NENY Project–a coalition led by the University and the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) – is aimed at establishing a national hub for battery innovation, manufacturing, and workforce development in upstate New York.
Last month, the NENY project was awarded more than $113 million to establish a hub for battery technology innovation in upstate New York. The region is slated to receive $63.7 million, while the State of New York will support the project with an additional $50 million.
Binghamton University will develop a battery technology and manufacturing center in an Opportunity Zone in Endicott, NY, while additional projects will support the battery industry and its supply chain. The entire initiative is expected to have a $2 billion economic impact.
NENY includes more than a dozen partners including Binghamton University and other SUNY institutions, NY-BEST, and the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The initiative is being led by M. Stanley Whittingham, Binghamton University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science, who in 2019 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion technology was used in more than 90% of large-scale battery storage installations operating in the U.S. at the end of 2019, according to a report released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The batteries are highly efficient, while their high energy density makes them the current battery of choice for most portable electronic and electric vehicle (EV) applications.
“I’d say the main barrier today is the supply chain,” Whittingham said. “We have to have an American supply chain. The government has held meetings to help that happen. My fear is too much talk and not enough action, but there are definitely positive things happening. And I should say that Sen. Schumer is really pushing hard on this. We’ve been getting a lot of support from Congress – I should say one half of Congress.”
According to Whittingham, the initiative will focus on workforce training.
“When we talk about supply chain, we’re not just talking about supplies and equipment. We’re also talking about people,” he said. “There’s definitely a shortage of people in this area. The issue is that most of these facilities are in areas where the middle class and the rich don’t live. We’re trying to build this facility in Endicott, NY, which is the old home of IBM manufacturing here. They’ve got all the buildings there from the old manufacturing days. We may use some of those. There are also some big spill sites there as well.”
While renovations of facilities and the purchasing of equipment will take some time, workforce training will begin immediately.
“We’ll work with the local community,” Whittingham said. “The mayors of the towns are totally on board with us. We’re trying to work with the high schools and community colleges to organize it–from floor workers up to executive suites. We’d like to work with the local high school because there might be students who are interested in this sort of career who don’t want to go on to college, and we’ll train them right away.”
New York recently doubled its energy storage target to at least 6 GW by 2030, which will enable the state to meet its bold renewable energy goals and provide a pathway to supplant fossil-fueled generators that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities. The target – currently the largest in the country – will be backed by needed market reforms and cost-effective procurement mechanisms to capture the full benefits of energy storage.
New York’s updated Energy Storage Roadmap will identify research and development needs to accelerate technology innovation, particularly for long-duration energy storage. It will also outline ways to incentivize the private market to produce sufficient storage capacity to meet the state’s ambitious clean energy targets.
“I think the big thing is that New York State would like to use American technology and American-made batteries, and that’s one of our goals right now since all of the storage facilities get their batteries from Asia,” Whittingham said. “Despite what politicians say, the states are moving ahead anyway. I was recently in Louisville, KY, for the Derby and they have three Asian companies that want to build battery gigafactories there. I think they’re giving them matching money to entice them. People realize this is the future, it’s going to happen, and they’re encouraging it.”
Advancing lithium-ion technology
Binghamton University is part of a core team of researchers at the Innovation Center for Battery500 Consortium, run out of the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO). The consortium, which is led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is working to provide EV manufacturers with batteries that are more reliable, high performing, safe, and less expensive.
Since the consortium’s launch in 2016, the team has made significant strides in battery research and development. This research has led to a significant increase in the cycling life of high-energy rechargeable lithium batteries, which are the most coveted of batteries due to their smaller size and ability to carry more energy.
“We’re still trying to make the present batteries better,” Whittingham said. “The goal with the Battery500 Consortium is to double the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. We’re also working on some new materials for batteries which will also make batteries safer, cheaper, and at least maintain today’s energy density. Our goal is to go back to the original and start using lithium metal as the anode. The technology out there incrementally improves every year and it’s really the research that we and others do that allows us to keep improving. The industry is huge right now but they’re not going to make a significant change overnight. They’d like to improve it every month. Right now, they’re looking into drop-in technology.”
The global lithium-ion battery market size is expected to reach 182.53 billion by 2030, with this growth driven by the increasing consumption of rechargeable batteries in consumer electronics, a rise in the adoption of EVs, and an expanding renewable energy sector. The emergence of integrated charging stations, renewable power generation, eMobility providers, battery manufacturers, and energy suppliers is anticipated to drive further market growth in the coming years.
Accompanying this sharp increase in capacity is a shift in the way battery storage technologies are being deployed. Operators report more applications for battery storage beyond the traditional ancillary services that have been predominant since 2016.
Although ancillary services continue to represent a significant share of the use case capacity, other use cases such as arbitrage, load management, and response to excess wind and solar generation saw significantly increased levels of participation.
“Some states are well on the road,” Whittingham said. “Certainly, New York has mandates and laws as to how much storage has to be on the grid. And as far as I can tell, it’s going to happen- there are enough people that want to do it. Right now, I’d say there are not enough subsidies. There’s matching money from NYSERDA and others. They capped out their allocation certainly for this year.”
In August, the House passed the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which will adopt a stand-alone ITC for storage facilities with a capacity of at least 5 kWh whose construction begins before Jan. 1, 2025.
“The standalone storage ITC would certainly help,” Whittingham said. “I think the issue here is related to the state ISOs and how utilities can make money on storage. I know that NY-BEST is working on that with New York State. FERC has some say in all this as well, because right now FERC is saying four hours and I think a lot of people would like it to be much longer.”
Check out the previous installment of our Battery Storage Series, featuring insights from Altenex Energy’s John Egbuta, Onsite Solar & Energy Storage Advisor, Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Cadenza Innovation.
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