It’s no secret that batteries are the most expensive part of an electric vehicle. As such, this is the root of the industry’s problem and a roadblock to making larger strides into the mainstream market. Researchers around the world are racing to solve this problem, and now a team of German scientists say they’ve taken a crucial step in that direction.
The team, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS, have devised a new production process for EV batteries that features coating their electrodes with a dry film of chemicals rather than liquids. According to them, this process is less energy-intensive, which means it’s cheaper, and it is also better than the standard process in that it does not involve toxic solvents.
“Our dry transfer coating process aims to noticeably reduce the process costs in electrode coating,” project manager Dr. Benjamin Schumm told Phys.org. “Manufacturers can eliminate toxic and expensive solvents and save energy costs during drying. In addition, our technology also facilitates the use of electrode materials that are difficult or even impossible to process wet-chemically.”
The latter part of Schumm’s comment is important: in the future, batteries will be a lot more energy dense than today’s version, and this will require the use of these materials. The team’s binder polymer-based alternative to expensive and toxic wet chemistry comes in anticipation of the batteries of the future, many of which, according to Schumm and his colleagues, will be solid-state.
“These batteries will be able to store more energy in the same volume than today’s lithium-ion batteries,” the IWS project leader said.
Most battery-related breakthroughs in the news are reported from the lab, and despite assurances that the technology is potentially scalable, few have been actually tested. This is not the case with the IWS electrode-coating process. The institute already has a partner from the manufacturing industry: Finnish BroadBit Batteries. The company has already launched a pilot production unit at a factory and is producing sodium ion batteries using the new coating process, which, in addition to all its other advantages, is also substantially faster than wet chemistry.
Given all this, the dry-coating tech may someday replace the traditional way of coating electrodes with the chemicals that make them electrodes, and this replacement will allow EV makers to achieve two of their biggest goals: lowering the price of their vehicles and boosting the energy density of their batteries with the use of new chemicals.
European carmakers should be especially happy about the lower battery cost implications of the IWS team’s invention. These have poured billions into their EV production plans but are excessively reliant on imported battery cells. A homegrown cheaper battery production process could help them to reduce this dependence at a crucial moment when EVs, helped by government policies, have a chance to really take off.
A recent study from AlixPartners estimated that “by 2023 a whopping $255 billion in R&D and capital expenditures (will be) spent globally on electric vehicles, and that some 207 electric models are set to hit the market by 2022.”
The bad news is that many of these would not be able to compete “due to currently-high systems costs, low volumes and intense competition.”
The German team’s new production process could help even the playing field.