In the steps of Jules Verne: onboard energy
At the Jules Verne University in Amiens, a laboratory lies at the centre of a European network of excellence which is researching the issue of storing energy.
The adopted home of Jules Verne, where the author of The Extraordinary Journeys was for a long time a local councillor, the main city of Picardie was well placed to host a research project related to transport of the future. This is a major issue, for although there is an ever-increasing demand for transport, it already accounts for 30% of the energy consumed throughout the world. From atmospheric pollution to global warming, its impact on the environment is alarming.
It has thus become urgent to develop innovative solutions to provide electricity for “onboard energy” vehicles and thereby enhance their autonomy. More generally, apart from transport, a priority over the coming decades will be to develop far more efficient energy storage systems and to combine them with renewable energy sources.
A laboratory at the centre of a network
The Laboratory of Reactivity and Chemistry of Solids (LRCS) is a joint unit of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens. The aim of the LRCS is to study materials and their industrial applications, in which it has developed a particular expertise through the invention of a new type of battery using nanomaterials.
In such a complex filed in which the costs of technologies are high, it is highly worthwhile to share knowledge and tools. The LRCS also places its expertise and equipment at the disposal of an integrated network of specialist laboratories working on energy storage throughout Europe.
From the private “life” of batteries to the global transport market
With support from the ERDF, the Regional Council and State aid, the LRCS was able to put together the necessary funds to purchase high-tech equipment: equipment for studying the behaviour of batteries using X-rays and electronic microscopes to analyse the private “life” of nanomaterials. Everything was designed to enable researchers at laboratories in other locations to observe the samples over the Internet. It involved understanding the evolution of nanometric powders that had been subjected to charge-discharge cycles and improving their performances. Research currently being undertaken looked promising, with a new generation of lithium-ion batteries therefore likely to appear, which will improve the reliability of electricity networks, rational energy use and the development of cleaner transport.
The environment is not the only issue involved. If storing electricity has become a crucial matter for car manufacturers, it is also because a major economic issue, when considering markets such as that in China. Recent work has revealed that a technological leap could be crucial for Europe’s positioning in the changing world of transport.
The scientific and technical platform established around the LRCS currently includes 16 university laboratories and research institutes in 10 countries: France, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. It supported the establishment in 2004 of the Alistore network of academic excellence which is coordinated by the LRCS team and which notably organises summer schools. Alistore’s activities have enabled the creation of a European Master’s course in “Materials for energy storage and conversion”, under the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus programme which aims to promote the academic training in the EU throughout the world.
During an Alistore meeting in October 2005, battery manufacturers took an interest in LRCS’s experience and are now working with the public-sector laboratories in the network. In this way there is the possibility to move away from purely academic horizons towards industrial perspectives, along with the achievement of a dream which would no doubt have been shared by Jules Verne himself.