For much of its history, NAATBatt International has focused on large format batteries and supercapacitors designed to service applications in the automotive, stationary energy storage and industrial battery sectors. That is where the growth in the battery industry was expected to be and where most public discussion of electrochemical energy storage technology has been centered.
But my two days this week at the IDTechEx conference in Santa Clara brought home to me the fact that companies in the battery industry that are only looking at large format applications are missing a large and potentially very important piece of the battery industry picture. That missing piece of the picture is the small, solid state batteries that are likely to power a good part of the internet of things (IoT).
The size of the potential IoT market has been widely publicized and has engendered a certain amount of market hype that is not unlike the hype surrounding electric vehicles in 2007-09. Still, the numbers are enticing. Estimates are that there will be some 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2020 (versus a world population of 7.6 billion human beings), all of which will need to be powered by some form of electrical power device. The opportunities for battery and capacitor technologies in such a world are fairly obvious.
Market adoption of these devices will, of course, always lag behind the hype. The message from the IDTechEx show was essentially that early markets for IoT devices are likely to be in industrial automation and building automation. The automotive market is also seen as an area where IoT devices can generate favorable returns on investment in the short term, though IDTechEx expressed frustration with the slow product development cycles of automakers (I think I have heard this complaint before). Medical devices and wearables also represent huge market opportunities. But more work is apparently needed to translate the low power output of current IoT devices into the type of performance needed to build large market demand for those devices. Not surprisingly, there seemed to be a lot of interest in capacitor technology at the meeting.
What struck me most about the meeting, however, was a presentation by thin film battery maker BrightVolt (see www.brightvolt.com). I had been cautioned by some of our current NAATBatt members that thin film, ultra small batteries is just not what they do. But when I listened to BrightVolt talk about how its competitive advantage is being able to work with its customers to design the ideal energy storage solution for the customer’s particular application (which the customer often does not understand itself), it struck me that I have heard that same talk before, pretty much verbatim, by any number of large format industrial battery companies. The thin film battery business is really not that different after all.
The upshot is that I expect we will be hearing a lot more about the thin film battery business and that it will be attracting the attention of some of our members who have traditionally focused on only large scale systems before long. Certainly thin film and solid state battery and capacitor applications will become an increasing focus of NAATBatt, as these new applications underscore the centrality of electrochemical energy storage to many of the technologies that will shape human society in over the next century.