Materials play a critical enabling role in many energy technologies, but their development and commercialization often follow an unpredictable and circuitous path. In this article, we illustrate this concept with the history of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which have enabled unprecedented personalization of our lifestyles through portable information and communication technology. These remarkable batteries enable the widespread use of laptop and tablet computers, access to entertainment on portable devices such as hand-held music players and video game consoles, and enhanced communication and networking on personal devices such as cellular telephones and watches. A similar transformation of transportation to electric cars and of the electricity grid to widespread deployment of variable renewable solar and wind generation, effortless time-shifting of energy generation and demand, and a transition from central to distributed energy services requires next-generation energy storage that delivers much higher performance at lower cost. The path to these next-generation batteries is likely to be as circuitous and unpredictable as the path to today’s Li-ion batteries. We analyze the performance and cost improvements needed to transform transportation and the electricity grid, and we evaluate the outlook for meeting these needs with next-generation beyond Li-ion batteries.