- Generation 3B lithium-ion batteries
- Series production and recycling
- On the way to the Gigafactory
- Outlook: solid-state batteries – generation 4b
In mid-February, the starting signal fell officially for the European Battery Research Project Sense. Five research institutes and six industrial companies from seven European countries are now looking for solutions for the next-generation lithium-ion battery in the coming four years. As a partner on board is also the Swedish company Northvolt, which wants to build two major production facilities for vehicle batteries in Europe over the next few years. The research project is coordinated by Empa researchers Corsin Battaglia (in the article picture on the right) and his team coordinated. The EU promotes Sense with 10 million euros.
The need for drive batteries for electric cars will rise dramatically over the next few years. Currently more than 90 percent of these batteries come from Asia. The European Commission therefore launched the European Battery Alliance in 2017 to build competence and manufacturing capacities of this key technology in Europe. Alone European demand for lithium-ion batteries will make 10 to 20 so-called gigafactories – large-scale production facilities for batteries – necessary, so appreciate experts.
Generation 3B lithium-ion batteries
Research as part of the Sense project is part of this European Battery Alliance initiative and is carried by the EU research promotion program Horizon 2020. The eleven research partners of Sense – five research institutes and six industrial companies – research in their work on next-generation lithium-ion batteries – Generation 3B.
In contrast to current drive batteries, this next generation will have a higher energy density, as well as improved cell chemistry and improved battery management: instead of pure graphite anodes of silicon graphite composites are sought. In the cathode, the proportion of critical cobalt is further reduced. New additives in the electrolyte fluid as well as protective layers should leave the battery more slowly and make more charging cycles possible. For a longer service life and better fast-wheelability, new sensors will also contribute, which supply data from the interior of the battery cells to battery management. This data should allow a clearly refined temperature management compared to today’s lithium-ion cells.
Series production and recycling
The sustainability of the generation 3B cells should also exceed today’s generation: the cathode should be produced without the use of flammable and toxic solvents, which greatly simplifies and published the series production of the cells. All aspects of Sense Research are designed to produce the next generation cells in European Gigafactories. In order to exist in the competition of the future, therefore, particularly cost-effective and raw material-saving production methods are crucial.
The further use of aged vehicle batteries as a stationary memory and finally the recycling of the batteries is considered in the project Sense. Research Partner of the EMPA (CH), which directs the project, are the Westphalian Wilhelms University of Munster (D), the Julich (D) research center, Coventry University (UK), the Austrian Institute of Technology (A) and the companies Solvionic ( F), fpt engine research (CH), lithops (I), Northvolt (S), enires (F) and Huntsman Advanced Materials (CH).
On the way to the Gigafactory
A crucial role in the research project plays the Swedish company Northvolt. The company was co-founded in 2016 by two former Tesla employees involved in the construction of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada (USA). Northvolt currently plans the first European Gigafactory with a production capacity of 32 GWh a year to be built in Sweden. Another Gigafactory with 24 GWh annual production should be created as a joint venture with Volkswagen in Salzgitter (D). For comparison: The Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada currently produces around 30 GWh batteries per year, according to management.
Experts from Northvolt will accompany the Sense researchers with regular mailings. At the end of the project, a number of battery cell prototypes should have been created. The capabilities of the battery cell generation 3b will prove a demonstrator with 1 kWh storage capacity. At the end, the developed manufacturing technology in the form of patents should find the way into the industry. The Research Project Sense ends after 48 months in the spring of 2024. Funded by the EU under the Financing Agreement Nr. 875548.
Outlook: solid-state batteries – generation 4b
The Corsin Battaglia team at the EMPA participates in another European research project: The project called Solidify looks even further into the future and develops batteries of the next generation – solid-state lithium-metal batteries. In contrast to today’s lithium-ion batteries and those of the generation 3B, these solid-state batteries will not contain any liquid, flammable constituents. Therefore, they are safer and more resistant to heat. So you can deliver higher performance, load faster and unload.
These batteries – called Generation 4B – could in the opinion of the experts at the latest ten years of market speed. At half weight and half of the size, they should supply the same storage capacity as today’s lithium-ion batteries. The production costs should also fall in half. New electrode architectures are necessary, as well as cost-effective innovative liquid production methods for the cathode of these batteries. The anode is made of metallic lithium. The research project Solidify started on the 1. January 2020 and also runs for 48 months. Funded by the EU under the Financing Agreement Nr. 875557.
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