Electrical storage has a key role to play in the energy transition. Not only to bridge the mismatch between power generation and power consumption/use of renewable energy, but also to improve electricity transmission extensive research is being carried out for better, safer and more efficient battery technologies. In addition to new materials and technologies for batteries, we are also looking for solutions to optimise existing battery technologies. The ultimate aim is to extend the battery range, lifetime and performance, and increase the charging rate without sacrificing safety.
Lieve De Doncker
New materials for batteries
Batteries used in stationary applications, but also those for mobile use (car, drone, boot, airplane, bike) display specific needs towards the materials development.
The EnergyVille battery research covers the whole value chain from basic material research, over cell architectures and new battery concepts to battery management and system integration. For next generation Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, we focus on solid-state batteries. In our small pilot line with dry room we scale up processes to demonstrate up to coin cells and Amp-hour pouch cells. The materials, processing and upscaling tasks are supported by strong modelling activities and advanced characterisation expertise. In addition, we look into more exploratory chemistries for beyond 2030. We also study more sustainable technologies as Lithium-Sulphur (LiS) -based batteries and work on improving their performance towards the next generation cheap batteries used in lightweight applications as drones, e-bikes, aerospace applications as well as the stationary or car batteries. Our attention also goes towards Natrium-ion (Na-ion) -based technologies having the abundancy of the material as an important advantage.
What battery materials are investigated within EnergyVille?
- Electrode materials: Besides direct production of beyond state-of-the-art material compositions and morphologies, surface modifications of electrode powders such as the synthesis of core-shell materials are offered. Characterisation of the physical, chemical, and electrochemical properties of electrode materials, provides fundamental understanding and a pivotal advantage in further advancement and optimisation.
- Solid electrolytes: We have the facilities and expertise to synthesise and characterise solid-electrolyte materials.
- Dense high-capacity electrodes: A key differentiator of our solid-state cell technology is that our solid electrolyte is fabricated from a liquid precursor. This allows it to be easily introduced into dense porous electrodes by its liquid form where it is solidified once in place. From a technological point, only slight modifications are needed to existing toolsets for (wet) Li-ion batteries, a development which is also carried out in our upscale pouch cell pilot line. From a performance point of view, it enables high volumetric capacity as dense solid-state electrodes with high ratio of active material are now possible.
- Functional buffer layers: The introduction of high voltage positive electrodes (“5V materials”) is hindered by lack of electrolytes with sufficiently large electrochemical window. In our cell integration work, ultra-thin buffer layers are applied to isolate the ionic conductors from the electronic conductors. Basic material research on the so-called dual conductor materials will pave the way to ultra-dense electrodes with fast charging characteristics.
- Lithium metal anodes: Lithium metal anodes have been the holy grail of rechargeable Li-ion batteries since their invention in the mid-20th century. The general belief is that the solid-state battery technology will finally make lithium metal anodes reality. Chemical stability against lithium is a problem still for solid electrolytes. Proper buffer layers need to be developed. Finally, de-plating of lithium against a rigid solid electrolytes mains the formation of large voids and thus loss of contact. Several approaches are being evaluated in our lab, and a combination of two or more are likely to bring a technologically viable solution.
Modelling, characterisation and testing of batteries and battery materials
In-depth characterisation of the cell performance and its constituents (e.g., cathode, anode, electrolyte, and separator) is a crucial step to assess the maturity of a new component or cell architecture. Moreover, longevity of batteries needs to be ensured for many thousands of cycles by performing so-called accelerated aging tests for applications in e.g. electric vehicles and stationary energy storage. Energy and power rating, thermal behaviour, and life-time are the most important technical signatures of a given battery. Advanced characterisation (i.e., electrochemical, chemical, physical) methods available in EnergyVille enable a comprehensive investigation of the battery behaviour. The experimental data are further interpreted with the aid of physics-based models in order to unequivocally and quantitatively interpret the results and to predict the battery behaviour beyond the timeframe of experiments (lifetime simulation).
New battery cell architectures
Electrochemical cells are the building blocks of battery modules and packs and define to a large extent the energy-storage characteristics of a given battery design. Novel cell structures are essential to address the ever-increasing demand for lighter and safer batteries with higher power/storage capabilities. In this regard, R&D is required to decrease the contribution of the inactive components (e.g., current collectors, conductive additives, separator, electrolyte, binder, packaging, etc.) in the overall mass/volume of the cell. The advanced processing and pouch-line infrastructure in EnergyVille aims to accelerate the R&D activities towards new electrolytes and electrodes where high loading of active-mass and high electronic/ionic conductivities are coupled to push the performance limits of the state-of-the-art (i.e., lithium-ion) batteries and to realize next generation (e.g., solid-state, Na-ion, lithium-sulphur, metal-air, etc.,) cell chemistries.
Exploratory cell concepts
Together with the exploration of new materials and cell architectures, we are exploring novel concepts for battery cells. In this out-of-the-box approach, we step away from conventional powder based composite batteries and look for new and improved ways to tackle requirements for future applications. For example, a flexible and thin form factor will be needed for flexible electronics, integrated small form batteries will be needed to power the internet of things. Nanostructured current collectors and thin-film materials are potential concepts which we explore. Also existing concepts such as metal-air and lithium-sulfur batteries will need out-of-the-box innovation to tackle some of the many remaining practical issues. Also here, novel nano-engineered battery concepts are being explored.
New battery concepts
The development of new battery cell technologies and architectures goes hand in hand with the search for new concepts for battery modules and their integration within the total battery pack. The main focus is on the optimal battery configuration which preserves the performance of the battery technology, taking into account not only electrical but also thermal and mechanical aspects. To increase the flexibility of the storage system the proposed battery modules should be stackable andequipped with standardised connections to battery electrical and optionally thermal management systems. This also contributes to the feasibility of second life applications, fitting the circular economy model envisaged by Europe.. This activity is heavily relying on the expertise at EnergyVille on battery materials and cell behaviour in different applications and environmental conditions.
Battery management systems (BMS)
EnergyVille develops innovative Battery Management Systems (BMS) for a safe and efficient operation of batteries in different mobile and stationary applications. This technology builds on the in-house developed cell monitoring system for fuel cells and can also be coupled to other storage technologies, like ultra capacitors or even technology combinations in hybrid storage systems. The continuous measurement and data analysis of individual cell and pack level parameters, like voltage, current and temperature, enable accurate battery state estimation. EnergyVille really puts the focus on the development of flexible and configurable hardware and software BMS solutions that answer their client’s needs. Also the development of more advanced battery modelling and early battery failure detection techniques are put high on the agenda. With their integration within building and vehicle management systems EnergyVille tries to achieve a more safe and cost efficient battery integration.
Battery integration support
Givenour expertise on storage technologies and in particular on batteries, EnergyVille is the ideal partner to perform objective feasibility studies for a battery solution for a given application with specific conditions. EnergyVille also advices on the right selection and dimensioning of technology and provides insights on the total energy storage system, the related requirements and standards. Next to this EnergyVille is developing advanced technologies for a more optimal integration, serving both the needs of the end-user and the grid connected to it. For the operational phase, EnergyVille is supporting energy management systems by providing more detailed battery information (e.g. ageing effect of service delivery) on which basis improvedtechno-economical decisions can be made.
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