Battery Development Must Serve Qatar’s Vision on Energy

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  • Published: March 24, 2016
Since joining Qatar Foundation (QF) in November 2013, it has been a tremendous privilege to work and lead the energy storage activity within the Qatar Environment & Energy Research Institute (QEERI), a research institute of Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of QF, to help accelerate the use of advanced battery solutions that are affordable, safe, and durable with the purpose of connecting these enabling technologies with solar photovoltaics to improve the overall system reliability in on- and off-grid applications.
Storage technology is an instrumental tool in managing grid resiliency and reliability by mitigating the issue of variable power generation and improving microgrid and smart-grid functionality. An ideal scenario could be where batteries can serve as power back-up to prevent the grid from crashing when the demand for electricity peaks, and during off-peak times.

Energy storage is the capture of energy produced at the time of abundance for use at the time of need. Batteries are examples of energy storage technologies that convert chemical energy into electrical energy by means of electrochemical reactions.

Of particular interest, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are nowadays the main power source for consumer electronics; they were first produced in high volume by Sony in the early 1990’s. A typical lithium-ion battery can store 150 watt-hours of electricity in 1kg. For comparison, it takes 6kg of lead acid battery (car battery) to store the same amount of energy. Due to their high energy and high power densities and long cycle life, li-ion batteries made a big stride in penetrating new applications such as electric vehicles, medical devices, and as stationary power systems for the grid application.

In my opinion, any development around batteries in Qatar should primarily serve the nation’s vision on energy and economy diversifications. Energy storage is not only a discipline where high impact scientific journal articles can be generated, but also a business where local natural resources such as sulfur and other petrochemical by-products can unveil new market opportunities for Qatar.

The incremental insertion of solar energy in residential, government, and recreational buildings in the Gulf region is in need of an enabling energy storage industry that is suitable for the region’s climate and environmental conditions.

One of these battery technologies could be sodium ion batteries that use sodium recovered from desalination plants. Brines generated in desalination plants cause serious environmental issues to the marine life in Qatar.

The nation can benefit tremendously by removing sodium from brines, and capitalizing on it for the production of electrolytes and materials for sodium ion batteries. On another front, the petrochemical industry in Qatar can take advantage of several oil and gas by-products that can be part of the battery business. For instance, sulfur, which is an abundant commodity, could also be a game changer in the area of energy storage because it has significant energy density advantage compared to lithium ion batteries.

Finally, we – as scientists, engineers, and stakeholders – should seek the opportunity of the 2022 World Cup to modernize the local fleet through the introduction of battery electric vehicles and solar charge stations.

As the world proceeds toward an increasingly global economy, HBKU can play a major role in securing a domestic workforce that is well educated in the energy storage science and also engineering, which will be vital for continued technology advances and economic success.

Ilias Belharouak
Research Director, QEERI, Hamad bin Khalifa University