Boosting battery power for electric vehicles
EU-funded researchers are developing a high-energy lithium-ion battery to power a range of electric vehicles. They aim to meet growing demand for greener transport and help Europe establish a competitive advantage in battery cell production.
© DI Jochen Russmann, 2013
Electric vehicles significantly reduce pollution, but their success in the mass market depends on high-energy batteries being available at a competitive price. Together, greater consumer demand and recent industry developments are pushing this greener mode of transport into the mainstream.
The EU-funded eCAIMAN project is responding to the demand with a new high-voltage (5V) lithium-ion battery. By improving individual components and how they are produced, cell capacity will increase by at least 20 %. The innovative batteries will enter the market place by the mid-2020s.
The projects approach is to develop in a sustainable way the active materials in a cell, harmonise them with each other as well as with the inactive parts of the battery, and then scale up production to demonstrate industrial feasibility. eCAIMAN will also deliver recommendations to industry for standardised testing of the cells, and ideas concerning safety and reliability.
Traditionally, Europe has a strong vehicle manufacturing base but there is still no significant industrial production of Li-ion battery cells, explains project coordinator Boschidar Ganev of the Austrian Institute of Technology. That means European manufacturers have to import cells from Asia or North America and then perform value-added activities to integrate them into battery packs. This situation represents a missed opportunity for European industries.
One significant achievement within the project is that the eCAIMAN cell does not use cobalt a rare, toxic and costly raw material. The project also produces its anodes through water-based chemistry to reduce the environmental impact of cell production and make end-of-life recycling simpler.
Some of the major vehicle manufacturers demanding the development of such batteries are actively involved in eCAIMAN. We have developed a battery module which meets the requirements of the three European automotive companies that are collaborating in the project CRF, Piaggio and Volvo, adds Ganev. This means the same module design can be used flexibly and integrated into different classes of vehicles, including scooters, cars and trucks.
It is unusual for manufacturers to share battery module design in this way. The collaboration has the potential to cut the cost of both research and development, and final production. In addition, the eCAIMAN team has developed a battery management system for recharging that is suited to high-voltage cells.
In addition to automotive businesses, the project consortium is made up of European research institutes, and chemical and industrial companies. They will all benefit from bringing to market a new battery cell that uses relatively inexpensive and readily available materials.
Commercial partners will be able to build on eCAIMANs work by developing even more promising battery materials and exploiting patent results. Meanwhile, the vehicle manufacturers are gaining an advantage over competitors by testing the practicality of the eCAIMAN battery module concept and the related battery management system.
In the end, the real winner could be the European motorist who in a few years will be able to drive vehicles that use the projects cost-effective, powerful and environment-friendly battery cell.