Nilar Industry Highlights July

What a Global Shutdown Reveals About Supply Chains

Prior to 2020, the concept of consumer energy storage was starting to explode. Although batteries had been around for more than 100 years, the world has only recently embraced the benefits of pairing solar installations with a battery system for the combined benefits. Renewable energy sources can only go so far since their supply can be intermittent. To put it bluntly, batteries will ultimately be the key to the green transition. With the growing popularity, it was only natural for multiple entities to start looking at the supply chains for the components of the most popular batteries. Therefore, it is beneficial to assess where the demand was prior to the pandemic effect.

Interest in batteries within electric vehicles and stationary storage has led to increased demand on various minerals involved in different battery chemistries. The demand is predicted to significantly surge over the next ten years. In the infographic below, created by Standard Lithium, the tonnes of material required for production will increase by 12-fold or more. Although the focus of this research surrounds lithium ion battery chemistries, the main shortage of these critical components can apply to other battery types, like NiMH.

At the end of 2019, 65% of the global battery production and half of the global lithium chemical production comes from China. This growing quality supply in China has nearly transformed lithium into a commodity and has helped in driving competitive pricing. When referring to a lithium ion battery, this is actually a broad term that encompasses multiple chemistries. Most of the commercially available chemistries are known to have high levels of cobalt. One of the main issues with this growth is that two-thirds of the world’s supply is mined in the Congo and, typically, not ethically sourced. Most battery manufacturers are trying to move towards chemistries that eliminate the use of cobalt but that will take time and the demand may exceed the supply beforehand.

As Lithium ion battery manufacturers are working to reduce components like cobalt, this shift actually increases nickel consumption. Nickel is known to be necessary in creating stable and long-lasting lithium ion batteries but is also the primary component of nickel metal hydride batteries. Nickel supply to the market is slowly heading to a deficit. Its role within stainless steel production remains strong. In addition, the popularity of the electric vehicle only increases the demand each year. Another factor to consider is that the world’s largest nickel producer, Indonesia, had implemented a nickel ore export ban, which went into effect in January. Though other nickel miners can optimistically see this as an opportunity to expand their production, any advancement will be slow, and the global supply will take a hit. Nearly all of the recent nickel supply growth has been within nickel pig iron, which would not be used within batteries. For the battery industry specifically, the quality of the nickel is critical.

The strain on the global supply of these materials was already underway as the world shifted into a pandemic state. The rapid Covid-19 spread in China inevitably led to eight provinces announcing work stoppages by mid-February. At that time, analysts were predicting a 10% drop in storage production capacity. According to Bloomberg, China controls three quarters of the global supply chain, with the current capacities as shown in the figure below. As the work stoppages began, the global dependency was exposed. Logistic slowdowns and border shutdowns are having a heavy impact on the automotive industry but batteries have not yet experienced any significant shortages in their raw materials primarily due to an oversupply from 2019. However, the end of the second quarter of 2020 will change that as mining companies in the battery supply chain will be driven to invoke the force majeure clause of their contracts.

Although optimism is challenging given the current state of the industry, it is not all grim. The escalating demand and the waning supply have brought emphasis and urgency to developments already underway. Recycling has come to the forefront over the last couple years, with analysts predicting that used Lithium Ion batteries will reach 2 million metric tons globally. In 2019, the European Union and United States had recycling rates less than 5% and Australia reaching up to 3%. However, things were starting to change. There was large consortium created in the UK dedicated to improving Li-ion battery recycling in 2018. Many of the educational institutions involved have already started trials on various recovery processes for high value materials. In early 2019, the US Department of Energy (DoE) announced the creation of a Li-ion battery recycling R&D center. Simultaneously, the DoE Battery Recycling Prize was launched, driving competition to create innovative solutions for collecting and storing discarded Li-ion batteries.

Worldwide, multiple scientists are exploring ways to revitalize old materials into new. Researchers at the University of Stockholm have found a way to mechanically wash and separate reusable electrode material from old, used NiMH electrodes. It was found that more than 95% of the electrode can be reused after a new recycling process and the material gains better properties in its second life. Once the process is more formalized, NiMH battery manufacturing companies can utilize these methods to reuse old batteries to make new batteries. For many lithium ion battery chemistries, the concentrations of cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese actually exceeds the concentrations found in natural ores. This virtually makes a used battery equivalent to highly enriched ore. The variability in chemistries leads to difficulties in a standard process. In Worcester, Massachusetts, Battery Resourcers is able to process ~0.5 metric tons of Li-ion batteries per day and are planning to increase that ten-fold. The DoE is also investing in multiple entities pursing direct recycling methods. Meanwhile, in China, there is an exploration of salvaging graphite anodes from depleted lithium ion batteries for a second life in potassium-ion and sodium-ion batteries. Reuse of battery material is being pursued from multiple angles.

Countries will start to shift to more localized manufacturing where possible. The European Commission is working towards 20 to 30 new battery gigafactories within the EU. The US is working on the American Mineral Security Act, which will push the US to explore local resources and become mineral independent. The map below created by Standard Lithium shows the domestic raw material resources that can be harnessed towards a US supply chain.

In a recent EV market analysis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted that raw material reclamation efforts are stifled by a lack of movement in policy, where battery development and decreasing prices actually hinder the perspective on recycling. It is cheaper to make new batteries than go through all the various processes to reclaim for reuse. However, the pandemic is altering the public perspective. The current supply chain limitations and the visual signs of pollution reduction may prompt lawmakers to take action internationally.

The time for the world to embrace a circular economy philosophy is now. Incremental steps towards this way of thinking can go a long way in effecting change. The product’s end of life should be taken in consideration during the design phase. This can dictate the material selection as well as the assembly processes to make the product easier to take apart for recyclability or component reuse. At Nilar, we are striving to elevate our products to this level. Virtually all of the materials in our product are recyclable, with the salvage value of the nickel exceeding the processing expense. In conjunction with Stockholm University, Nilar has developed a method to refurbish electrolyte within the battery, extending the usable life significantly. This design feature is in an upcoming product line. Further testing with Stockholm University is proving that old electrodes can become new and improved, expanding the possibilities within the Nilar manufacturing process. Nilar is evolving into a circular economy approach, aspiring towards Gandhi’s words: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

 


Meet a Nilar employee July

 

What led you to work in the energy storage industry?
While pursuing my Master of Science in Business and Economics, of which one year abroad in Buenos Aires I was able to study marketing. When graduating, I looked for a position where I could get practical use of my newly achieved knowledge. One thing that made me want to apply to Nilar and work in the field of energy storage was being able to work for a company that develops a product of the future that also develop environmentally friendly products. Both these things makes me proud to be a Nilar employee.

What’s most fun about your job?
The most fun thing is being an essential part of the operations, being the one who has an overview of our sales and marketing related efforts. I like being a part of building a marketing department, creating and building processes and standards of the company’s way of working with marketing. I also appreciate that my work allows me to be very creative.

What is the most common misconception about your role?
Sometimes people seem to think that marketing is only related to brochures and catalogues. My role is a lot broader and includes profiling the company in close collaboration with the product and sales departments, to support the sales initiatives.

Early mistakes that you learnt from in your career?
Early in my career, It was difficult to differentiate good sales representative arguments from what are real facts and useful products and services for our company to invest in.

Who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who can combine a successful career with a rich social and family life along with a healthy lifestyle.

A good book you’ve read?
I would like to highlight a book called “Portionen under tian: bra mat för dig, din plånbok och planeten” (The portion under ten: good food for you, your wallet and the planet) written by Hanna Olvenmark. It’s a book that encourages you to be environmentally friendly by cooking based on seasonal ingredients, with every portion costing less than 10 SEK instead of buying takeout.

What is the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
During June, our plan was to exhibit at the industry fair “ees Europe”. Our plan was to release revolutionizing news at the fair, but the current global situation forced us to put things on hold. Together with the marketing team, now my work is focused on reevaluating and getting new inspiration on how we can launch these innovative news in the near future.

A secret talent?
For 8 years now, I have been DJing in my free time. I am part of the collective Okidoki and I recently became member of the music collab space Bageriet in Stockholm. You can hear my mixes on Soundcloud, under the name Vråmo!

Best tip to stay productive?
Start by setting up clear routines for your workday. If working from home, still dress up as if for a normal day at the office. Allow yourself to take breaks, just as you do when working at the office. Take time to be off work after working hours. If you get stuck on a task – training and outdoor activities is great to clear your thoughts!

What’s the best thing about working at Nilar?
Even though it’s still early in my career, my ideas are being heard and I get to contribute to setting processes for ways of working with marketing related projects. Because we are working in an industry that is in an early developing stage, me and my colleagues get to meet new challenges and a lot of times solve big questions. As a bonus, the team spirit at Nilar makes me look forward going to the office.

 

 


Roles in the Energy Storage Industry

As energy storage becomes more prominent in the energy industry, it is beneficial to gain a better understanding of the various entities involved. When a general consumer tries to make a purchase, it can be confusing with all the terminology. There are many different entities in the energy industry, and each serves a different purpose. The goal is to provide an explanation of what each role is and how they relate to each other.

End User
The end user is typically the one making the purchase. At times, there may be a contractor or project manager making a purchase on the end user’s behalf. Generally speaking, this is the entity using the energy whose requirements need to be met.

Energy System Financer
Given the general expense of a new power system installation, there may be a need for a loan of some sort. Most people relate loans to banks; however, early on, there was reluctance to provide funding to technology that was not fully proven. Therefore, companies were created by energy storage advocates to provide financing to help energy storage system installations. This entity would provide a loan to pay off the purchase and installation and would have a fixed payback system with the consumer.

Battery Manufacturer
As the title implies, this is a company that does the physical work behind assembling the battery. This company works with suppliers of various materials, like the electrode material and the electrolytes. Typically, there are metal and plastic suppliers that help in making the casing. There are different sealant suppliers that may be contracted by this company for sealing components. There are generally chemistry specialists on staff that study the specific composition within the battery and testing technicians that analyze the battery’s performance under different conditions. The Battery Manufacturer is able to take all those components and create a final battery product. Depending on the technology, the output from the Battery Manufacturer is either referred to as a cell or as a battery pack, if cells cannot be individual.

Battery Distributor
This entity helps move batteries from manufacturing to a buyer. The buyer can be a company that will use the batteries in a bigger assembly or a consumer who will put the battery to direct use. A distributor typically is the entity purchasing the batteries from the manufacturer and making it available to the consumer, helping transport it to an end user. There are also suppliers of batteries with storefronts that make the batteries available for walks-in purchase.

Battery Management System Provider
Depending on the battery chemistry, there may be a need to better monitor and control the operating conditions. A battery management system (BMS) is a set of electronics and a corresponding control program that is specific to the battery or set of batteries. These sophisticated controls monitor what goes in and out of the battery and have specific alarms created for regulation. The BMS is used to interface the batteries with a larger control system that integrates all the power resources of a house or building (referred to as an energy management system or EMS). A BMS is a necessity for advanced chemistries like NiMH and Li Ion that are not designed to vent during normal operation. They cannot sustain float charging like a lead acid battery, which can handle a continuous charging input well after it has reached 100%. For more advanced chemistries, the ability to float charge can only be done below a chemical equilibrium voltage. Therefore, the BMS provides sophisticated controls to ensure that the charging algorithm does not go outside the battery’s optimal operating conditions. Given these specific needs, many battery manufacturers have created a BMS specific to their battery to avoid any misuse.

Inverter Manufacturer
The inverter is a critical component within an energy storage installation. It transitions the direct current (DC) that comes from the battery to alternating current (AC) at a specific voltage and frequency for use in the specific region. The voltage and frequency vary by country or state so there is no standard inverter that can be placed in multiple regions. For instance, the single phase voltage of 230V and a 50 Hz frequency is normal in France, but 120V and 60 Hz is typical in the US. There are a few different types of inverters and the decision on type can depend on the intended use of the energy storage system. There are some that can allow the input from both a photovoltaic (PV) system and a battery system simultaneously, where others are built specific to the equipment. Either way, the manufacturer of the inverter typically has a direct relationship with the battery manufacturer and whatever entity is integrating and installing the components.

Energy Management System Provider
At a single location, there can be multiple power systems in place. An energy management system (EMS) is a central program that takes all the inputs and can control how they are utilized together. There are many EMS providers on the market with varying complexity. In general, the EMS system should be able to monitor the load needs of the home or building and apply power from any available installed system to meet the loads. For example, in a house with a PV system and an energy storage system, the EMS would have the PV system providing power during the day to mitigate peak load periods, with any excess used to charge energy storage. Then, once the sun is no longer available, the EMS can utilize the energy storage system to mitigate the home loads. The EMS programming has to be able to communicate with all the installed systems, so the EMS provider tends to have close relationships with manufacturers and distributors. Although these communication protocols are not all the same amongst different technologies, there is progress towards standardization which will help the industry as a whole.

System Integrator
There are companies who take the energy storage components from different manufacturers and aggregate them into a packaged solution to sell to consumers. In some cases, the system integrator actually manufactures one of the components and use that to create a bundled system. For example, a system integrator can design and produce an energy management system (EMS) either as a separate component or as part of a complete solution including batteries and an inverter to directly interface with the EMS.

System Installer
This is the company who takes all the components and installs them in the home or building where the system is needed. Typically, this will include an electrician who is making sure everything is code compliant. The installer should be knowledgeable of the applicable codes and regulations for the installation location.

Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)
In order to start a system installation, the party providing the installation will have to gain some sort of approval. The approving entity is referred to as the Authority Having Jurisdiction. This varies from region to region and country to country. There may be permitting and code inspection involved. It just depends on the system and how it is connected and planned to be utilized. For storage systems that may be used in net metering, where electricity is able to be fed back into the grid, there is a need to interconnect with the grid. This means that, at minimum, the utility will need to approve of the system interconnection.

After Sales Support
Once a system is purchased and installed, unexpected challenges can arise. Typically, the customer will have been provided a support contact phone number or email address from the entity through which they made the purchase. There should be someone to contact for general troubleshooting of an installation. The sales representative who sold the item should be able to provide preliminary information and connect the customer to the specific people that need to be active for the particular situation.

Operations & Maintenance Support
Some batteries have defined maintenance procedures and schedules. Typically, there is a manual provided to the consumer upon purchase that details out those needs. Some of these procedures can be carried out by the system owner, such as adding new water to a flooded lead acid battery. For more sophisticated support, the installer of the system should be able to help or at least put the consumer in touch with the appropriate parties.


The release of a new Nilar video

Have you seen our latest video?
Batteries are not created equally, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages when choosing the right battery for you. Watch this video to better understand why Nilar is the
self-evident choice for a safer energy storage.

 


Why energy storage?

With increasing global demand for renewably generated power and other clean technologies, the widespread adoption of energy storage continues to be described as the key game changer for electricity systems.

Reliable storage systems are a critical missing link between intermittent renewable power and a reliable net-zero carbon future. Beyond solving this main challenge, energy storage is being increasingly considered to meet other needs such as relieving grid congestion or smoothing out the variations in power that occur independent of renewable-energy generation. It makes sense with increasing power demands, increasing investments into solar and wind that we want to facilitate storing that energy using innovative battery technologies.

Battery storage is a future-proof industry if we use similar trends and increasing demand we’ve seen in the solar industry; the storage sector is learning and growing in the right direction. Non-subsidies business models are becoming more profitable with a decreased ROI time. Battery technologies are innovating so quickly and Nilar is really at the forefront of the industry’s innovation.

 

Energy storage really does sit in the middle of this circle.

 

Saves Money

Energy storage can save operational costs in powering the grid, as well as save money for electricity consumers who install energy storage in their homes and businesses. Energy storage can reduce the cost to provide services such as frequency regulation as well as offset the costs to consumers by storing low-cost energy and using it later, during peak periods at higher electricity rates.

By using energy storage during brief outages, businesses can avoid costly disruptions and continue normal operations. Residents can save themselves from lost food and medicines, and the inconvenience of not having electricity. Also, there will be options for both businesses and residential consumers to participate in demand response programs when available.

Improve Reliability & Resilience

Energy storage can provide backup power during disruptions. The same concept that applies to backup power for an individual device (e.g. a smoke alarm that plugs into a home but also has battery backup) can be scaled up to an entire building or even a micro-grid at large.

Storage provides flexibility for the grid, to ensure uninterrupted power to consumers, whenever and wherever they need it. This flexibility is critical to both reliability and resilience. As the cost of outages continues to rise, the value of enhanced reliability and improvements in resilience also increases.

Integrate Diverse Resources

Energy storage can smooth out the delivery of variable or intermittent resources such as wind and solar, by storing excess energy when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining and delivering it when there is a lack of renewable power input. But storage can also support the efficient delivery of electricity for inflexible, baseload resources. When demand changes quickly and flexibility is required, energy storage can inject or extract electricity as needed to exactly match the load – wherever, and whenever it’s needed. Energy storage is the enabling technology.

Reduce Environmental Impacts

In simplest terms, energy storage enables electricity to be saved for later, when and where it is most needed. This creates efficiencies and capabilities for the electric grid—including the ability to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

By introducing more flexibility into the grid, energy storage can help integrate more solar, wind and distributed energy resources. It can also improve the efficiency of the grid – increasing the capacity factor of existing resources – and offset the need for building new pollution-emitting peak power plants.

As our energy supply mix gets cleaner with low- and no-carbon resources, energy storage helps that supply mix to evolve more easily and reliably.

 

 


Meet a Nilar employee May

 

 

What led you to work in the energy storage industry?

My great interest for supporting environmentally friendly technical solutions.

What’s most fun about your job?

Being able to participate in development projects that have an environmental focus in one way or another. Also, to be able to engage with other people who are driven by their environmental commitment and to be a part of a solution to an issue that I’m passionate about solving.

What is the most common misconception about your role?

When talking to acquaintances, the most common misconception is the assumption of my job within sales being similar, in many ways, to jobs within telemarketing. When talking to people within my industry, I often get mistaken for being a deeply technically knowledgeable engineer.

Early mistakes that you learnt from in your career?

Within technical sales, not to move too quickly; let the technique take its time. Early in my career I was more eager to sell, I realized early that it’s better to make a good sell than a quick sell.

Who inspires you?

In general, good speakers and rhetorics. Simon Sinek is someone for example. He is knowledgeable, well-briefed and has a clear image of what he wants to convey. Bill Gates is another example; he is engaged, dedicated and knowledgeable.

A good book you’ve read?

Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It’s a good book to read to better understand the expression EQ. Another type of very interesting intelligence. The book made me aware of different aspects to how we function and how to train characteristics other than the intellect.

What is the coolest thing you’re working on right now?

Electrification of stoves and kitchens in African villages. This project is a very clear example of why I chose this occupation.

A secret talent?

I happen to be a hobby-rockstar. I’m the lead vocalist in a band called Captain Black Beard; you can find us on Spotify. I have been singing for about 20 years.

Best tip to stay productive?

Training in the mornings. I try to run three times per week. One thing I’ve learned from quarantine is spending some time working alone can increase work efficiency.

What’s the best thing about working at Nilar?

It’s a company under build-up which gives the employees increased opportunities to affect their own work situation. We have a lot of possibilities to engage in activities with our colleagues and it’s a very flexible working environment.

 


Nilar Industry Highlights May

 

Thinking of a Post-COVID-19 Future While in the Present

With the world in its current state, we at Nilar wanted to provide our perspective.

During this spring, it is hard to let a day go by without thinking about the pandemic in some way. It has affected business to business interactions as well as relations between countries. According to the International Labour Organization, it has affected the livelihood of more than 80% of the global workforce with 1.3 million people knowingly infected worldwide. With all that is going on, it is difficult to think beyond the current problems. Though the current reality is grim, there are multiple groups from different countries working directly on the virus. Therefore, the best course of action for a company like ours is to be forward thinking.

Overall the energy industry as a whole has taken a hit. Oil has been the most heavily impacted. Demand is so low due to the vast reduction in fuel consumption that the industry is losing money in barrel production. Though the end-use consumers are seeing a substantial reduction in prices at the pump, the entire supply chain of oil refining, transport and storage may grind to a halt. This shift in oil markets actually directly affects natural gas since there are long-term gas supply contracts with links between the two commodities. The pricing implications causes issues for gas suppliers as well. Cost reductions in these markets lead to immediate decisions on where to invest during an economic decline. It can be hard to advocate for a transition to renewables when there is an overall economic crisis and the other sources of fuel are currently very cost effective. For the general consumer, there is uncertainty in their current income or no income at all that can make these types of purchases seem low priority, which has slowed the energy transition.

The interesting side effect of the world essentially locking down is the visualization of pollution reduction. Those actively pursuing a greener world can use this period as a case study to directly illustrate the cause and effect of shifting away from certain industrial processes. A study performed by IQAir has found a significant reduction in air pollution around the world due to the lockdowns and isolation of a majority of the global population. The analysis involves a review of a particular microscopic pollutant measured with the air over time. The study focused on ten major cities around the world within a three-week timeframe of the strictest part of the lockdown for that area. Overall, within these cities, there was up to a 60% reduction in this particulate relative to previous years. Although data like this is compelling, it is even more extraordinary to visually see the pollution reduction. Insider, a global news and lifestyle publication, compiled photographs from various sources of different cities that improved in a short period of time. Here are two example sets of photos from Insider that are astounding in their changes in such a short timeframe.

Pollution reduction on this scale can only mean forward thinking in the energy transition. There is now physical proof that can be referenced when discussing the possibilities. In general, many areas around the world are already working towards a phase out of coal. As of last month, there are officially three countries within Europe that have become coal free through the shutdown of their remaining coal power plants. Many other countries have also pledged to shut down their coal plants within the next 20 years as well. As coal is phased out and renewable energy systems increase, there is a need for a stabilizer for the grid. Coal also served as steady power generation, with the ability to guarantee supply. The intermittency of most renewable sources does lead to an opening for energy storage to shine and fill in these much-needed roles. There is an opportunity here to push sustainable energy sources forward through forward-thinking policies and regulations, which can lead to much-needed job creation.

Here at Nilar, we know that there is going to be a slow ramp up to where the energy industry once was. In reality, things may never return back to “normal”. With all of the environmental improvements seen, the lockdown has been eye-opening on how much can be achieved over a short period of time. It is obvious this major shutdown cannot be sustained and there will be a gradual return of many industrial processes as countries reopen. However, there is an opportunity here to evolve our approach moving forward. It is our belief that we will all come to embrace the new normal. The world of tomorrow can push innovation in data computing and processing to accommodate the prospective shift to remote work environments. This will only benefit the power of automation and control. Supply chains of all categories can be revamped to ensure that the essentials will not be out of reach again. The hope is that this will push industries towards recyclability and a circular economy. Ultimately, we can imagine a renewed spirit in the pursuit of a sustainability, with safety and reliability being key motivators. This will be the time for the energy storage industry to be in the forefront of the energy revolution and for companies to come together with a common goal of accessibility to the masses. We are getting ready…are you?


The historical journey of the Nilar Hydride® (NiMH) batteries

At Nilar, we are convinced that Nilar Hydride® batteries are the key solution for energy storage for us and for future generations.
Listen to Richard Howlett, Senior Technology Executive & Head of US Operations, describing the historical journey of the Nilar Hydride® (NiMH) batteries and his take on why battery energy storage is a reliable energy source.


Nilar representatives on IVA’s top-100 list 2020

 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) has selected a research project by Professor Dag Noréus and Dr Yang Shen for this year’s IVA 100 list.

The list highlights a range of prominent research projects from Swedish universities, all related to sustainability.Through the research project Professor Dag Noréus and Dr. Yang Shen have developed a method for multiplying the lifetime of nickel-metal hydride batteries. This ultimately means that the batteries can handle a lot of more charging cycles without losing capacity. The new method restores the batteries once they start to wear out. Other rechargeable batteries must be melted down in order to be recycled into a new set of batteries.

“It’s pleasant to see that IVA recognizes the Nilar Hydride battery development.”

– Dag Noréus

“I’m happy that our research resulted in something that actually gives batteries the positive effect on the environment that we all want to see.”

– Yang Shen

 

Click here to read more about Dag & Yang’s research project.


Water-based electrolyte rather than organic electrolyte

We wanted to reshare this post from 2018 regarding the safety aspects of our NiMH batteries.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read this post click here to read more about Nickel metal hydride and the benefit the technology brings.