Batteries, and especially greener batteries, are widely seen as pivotal to the world moving away from a dependence on fossil fuels. Global demand is forecast to grow at a compounded rate of 14 percent a year between now and 2027 and a tremendous amount of scientific work is going on in labs and across industries globally to improve the efficiency, performance and lifespan of batteries.


With batteries having such a key role to play in combatting Climate Change, Dr Simon Engelke, a battery scientist and entrepreneur decided to found Battery -Associates in October 2020. 


“We had three objectives in mind,” he explains. “First, we wanted to build a global network of experts from across the whole battery supply chain, including commercial and academic research laboratories, commercial companies and battery manufacturers.”


The organisation’s other objectives were to operate as a global consultancy and a recruitment centre. The idea, Dr Engelke explains, is to connect  battery enthusiasts and experts with viable opportunities while offering a chance for various industries to gain battery expertise, thus increasing knowledge exchange and innovation around battery technologies.


“The whole idea was to put a global network together that could work on the material challenges of battery innovation. The aim is to propel the energy transition forward, away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy for transport as much as mobility and energy,” Dr Engelke comments.


The whole concept has been extremely well received by the battery sector. In its first month of operation, Battery Associates expanded into a network of over 50 volunteers, including 17 ambassadors from 10 different countries.


The consultants and battery enthusiasts who makeup the network represent a wide spectrum of expertise in battery-related fields. Their expertise ranges from the automotive sector, with electric vehicles and scooters, to aerospace. It includes lithium-ion battery research; mining; recycling; battery production; and the renewable energy industry at large, including the wind power and solar photovoltaics (PV) industries.


Dr Engelke, who chairs the organisation,  previously served on the World Economic Forum’s Council on Energy Technologies. In 2018 he received the Trinity Bradfield Prize at the hands of Chemistry Nobel Prize winner G. Winter for his innovative battery electrode structuring technology.


“I’ve been involved in battery technologies since 2013. I got properly involved with sodium-ion batteries while being a student assistant the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and continued  during Masters and PhD at the University of Cambridge, where I worked on battery electrodes and their characterisation,” he comments.


For Dr. Engelke, one of the most exciting things about the battery sector is the correlation between demand and price. As demand for batteries has ramped up around the world, the price keeps dropping while the energy density of batteries and their longevity keeps improving.


“You can now get an eight-year guarantee for most car batteries. They are continually improving, but it is important to realise that batteries are good enough as they stand now, to do just about everything we want from them. We don’t need a great improvement in battery life or power to electrify transport,” he points out.


No one uses their computer or their smartphone 24 hours a day, which gives time for the batteries that run our gadgets to be recharged, making them as good as new for the next day’s tasks. Similarly, no one drives a car all day and all night, so provided the charging is done at an acceptable rate and will power the car for a sufficient number of miles, there’s no problem.


The more pressing environmental challenges with batteries, he points out, have to do with how we mine raw materials, which materials we use, and how we go about reusing, repurposing, and recycling batteries.


These environmental challenges around the manufacturing process and end-of-life issues, coupled with the fact that batteries are a global topic, emphasise the importance of the global network and consultancy platform that Battery Associates provides.


“This is an issue that has to be addressed in the developing world as much as in the developed world. So far, we have over 20 countries represented in our network but this number will expand, and we’ll continue leading projects that may make the reuse and recycling of batteries cheaper, like our open-source battery cycler project.


“For a strong, vibrant recycled re-purposed or second-use car battery market to develop, people need efficient battery testers that can provide accurate readings of a second-hand or reconditioned battery’s charge capacity and how well it can hold the charge. We are looking to help provide the tools that are needed for this,” he explains.


Another issue that Battery Associates wants to address is the lack of adequately trained battery workforce. By 2025, Europe is likely to need around 800,000 people to populate the battery value chain. Globally, that is likely to work out to millions of jobs. Battery Associates offers to that end a Battery MBA training programme to help individuals from various sectors become leaders in the battery field.


“Our participants come from over 19 countries across Europe, Asia and the US and we’re hoping for our geographic reach to increase so that local battery challenges may be accurately represented.  We’re also working on promoting gender equality and 40% of the people in our programme are women, which is a first for the battery industry,  sector that is traditionally very male-dominated in both scientific research and manufacturing.”


As Dr Engelke notes, even today, the vast majority of the delegates and speakers at battery conferences tend to be male. “We really need to get more women, and younger women involved. This is an amazing opportunity to directly impact transport’s shift to renewable energy and women are just as passionate about getting involved as their male counterparts, once they learn about the possibilities in the battery sector,” he concludes.