The Director of Battery Programs at NTU’s Energy Research Institute was among those awarded the Draper Prize in 2014 by the National Academy of Engineering. This was for pioneering and leading the groundwork for today’s lithium-ion battery. He shares about his work and his views on the future of energy storage.
Q1: Which one of your achievements in the area of energy storage are you most proud of and why?
Prior to the 1980s, the use of lithium batteries was largely uncommon. Anode materials in use were then inherently unstable and susceptible to explosions. In 1979-1980, I pioneered the use of the graphite anode as a safer alternative. Today, this technology is used in most commercial lithium batteries. You can find it in a wide range of applications, from mobile phones to grid-level storage. For my research work, I was awarded the Draper prize - the Nobel equivalent for engineers – in 2014.
Q2: What made you decide to sink your roots and continue your research work in Singapore?
There is great market potential for energy storage in Asia, with substantial R&D and business activities taking place in this region. I decided to anchor my research work in Singapore as I noted its ambitious targets for R&D, and how it is providing the right amount of support to translate lab-based solutions to commercialised end-products.
In fact, one of my companies, KVI Pte Ltd, was a beneficiary of this system. It was set up in 2011 to commercialise my research work. This was in new thermodynamic methods and equipment for more accurate condition monitoring of batteries, fuel cells and electrochemical capacitors.
Q3: In recent years, there has been growing interest in energy storage technologies, from electro-chemical batteries to super-capacities. This has arisen in large part from the need to integrate distributed renewable energy sources into the grid. What opportunities and challenges do you foresee for Singapore?
With a population of about 5.5 million, Singapore is a relatively small market compared with its neighbours. Where Singapore can make an economic impact in energy storage is in developing and mastering high value-added technologies.
A combination of a high level of education and attracting the right top-level international industries in the field should generate know-how. This can eventually be exported to countries in the region, in addition to responding to local demand in energy management and efficiency.
Q4: How can Singapore capitalise on these opportunities? Which areas deserve more attention and why?
Energy storage is among the faster-growing markets for lithium-ion battery applications. There are serious opportunities for Singapore to catch a significant part of the market by building know-how and a strong culture around energy storage to become a technological hub in Southeast Asia.
The area where Singapore may make a difference is in energy efficiency. This would relate to advanced battery management systems that will enable energy storage systems to be more cost-effective, reliable, and long-lasting.