Frontier Energy Storage Technologies and Global Energy Challenges


More than a billion people worldwide still lack access to basic electrical services. As policy makers, entrepreneurs and academics work to address a UN goal of sustainable energy for all by 2030, prominent technical solutions increasingly focus on decentralized connections to renewable, intermittent energy sources. Whether pico-solar lanterns, solar home systems, or larger solar, wind, or hybrid mini-grids, our technological solutions must all include some form of energy storage for them to be useful. To date, energy storage has remained a weak spot in policy, industry and academic responses to global energy challenges. Yet, as off grid energy capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia grows batteries will become increasingly important.

Future demand for clean, affordable energy and transport is spurring research and development into battery and other storage technologies, and increased manufacturing is spurring economies of scale that will have dramatic price effects on future batteries. In the UK, the Department for International Development has identified battery storage at the household and community scale as a new and emerging frontier technology. Current areas of innovation include a focus on electro-chemical batteries (lead-acid, Li-ion, NaS, Vanadium Redox Flow), flywheels, fuel cells, potential storage (pumped hydro), compressed air (CAES), thermal storage, magnetic storage, supercapacitors and superconductors. Different energy storage options come with costs and benefits. Some (like flywheels and lead acid batteries) provide high power at low cost but have a short lifetime. Others (like Li-ion batteries) are highly efficient and enjoy a long lifetime but remain prohibitively expensive for large scale off grid applications.

If we are to promote a sustainable energy transition, innovations in energy storage must also address the labour and environmental impacts of future battery technologies. Used lead acid batteries – common in many solar home systems – are classified as hazardous waste under the Bazel Convention. Informal or unregulated lead acid battery recycling in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia is associated with various forms toxic exposure, from the leaching of battery acid into soils and ground water, to the inhalation of lead particulates during the melting of lead plates. As increases in energy off grid energy capacity create new demands for battery storage technologies, what kinds of infrastructure will be required for end of life collection, disposal and recycling.

Workshop Aims and Objectives:

This workshop aims to bring together social and physical scientists, industry representatives and entrepreneurs, energy and international development policy makers, and practitioners. The event will:

  • offer an overview of new insights and research in battery storage, at the cutting edge of rural electrification in Sub Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia.
  • highlight the social, environmental and other impacts of large scale battery deployments in developing countries in terms of end-of-life management and recycling.
  • establish new collaborations for research on energy storage in the Global South
  • explore how investments in battery storage align with the UN’s goals of sustainable energy for all and UK funding commitments on global challenges.

Want to attend?

If you would like to attend and/or speak at this event please contact us at Places are limited so please identify your area of expertise and register your interest as soon as possible.

Agenda (TBC)

Tuesday 10th May, 6.00pm, Reception and Dinner, Edinburgh

Wednesday 11th May, Workshop, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation

9.00-9.30am, Arrival and registration

9.30am, Welcome and Agenda

9.30-11.00: Battery Frontiers #1

What does the next 5-15 years look like for technological developments in batteries? Who the major players/thinkers/actors in the technology? Where is the current potential for battery development in low and middle income countries, or in places without access to grid electricity? What are the current barriers holding back current investments in battery storage?

Presentations to include:

  • Overview of current battery technologies and price trends
  • Breakthrough battery research
  • Batteries for the developing world

11-11:30: Coffee

11.30-13.00: Battery Frontiers #2

What are the labour and environmental justice issues raised by battery manufacturing and end of life disposal/recycling? How easy will future batteries be to recycle in the developing world? How can social scientists, physical scientists, businesses and governments contribute to better energy storage without increasing detrimental effects associated with this energy storage?

Presentations to include:

  • The battery supply chains
  • Current practices for e waste recycling in the developing world, social
  • Technological overview of battery component recycling

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.00-16.00: Research Sandpit

This sandpit session aims to channel discussion into future collaborations between academic researchers and industry, across the physical and social sciences

16.00-17.00: Keynote

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