Lithium-ion batteries have plunged in cost since their introduction three decades ago at a rate similar to the drop in solar panel prices, as documented by a study published last March. Now, some of the researchers behind that earlier study have analyzed what accounted for the extraordinary savings. They found that by far the biggest factor was work on research and development, particularly in chemistry and materials science. This outweighed the gains achieved through economies of scale, though that turned out to be the second-largest category of reductions.
The paper by MIT postdoc Micah Ziegler, recent PHD graduate student Juhyun Song, and Jessika Trancik, a professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society, could be useful for policymakers and planners to help guide spending priorities in order to continue the pathway toward ever-lower costs for this and other crucial energy storage technologies. According to Trancik, their work suggests that there is still considerable room for further improvement in electrochemical battery technologies.
The analysis required digging through a variety of sources, since much of the relevant information consists of closely held proprietary business data. “The data collection effort was extensive,” Ziegler says. “We looked at academic articles, industry and government reports, press releases, and specification sheets. We even looked at some legal filings that came out. We had to piece together data from many different sources to get a sense of what was happening.” He says they collected “about 15,000 qualitative and quantitative data points, across 1,000 individual records from approximately 280 references.”