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The energy storage challenge

Posted on 17/08/2017

Faraday will help develop improved materials and better performance.

Existing battery technology for electric vehicles is expensive and complex.

By Nazanin Rashidi, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Energy Storage

With their immense potential for increasing the country’s energy security, economic vitality, and quality of life, electric vehicles (EVs, including hybrid electric and all-electric) will play a key role in the UK’s transportation future. However, the electric car industry, like any new emerging industry, is facing a number of technical and commercial challenges.

Battery technology for EVs is expensive and complicated. It is fair to say that most of the research and development projects for more capacitive and safer batteries have been focused on investigating new materials – mainly electrode materials and electrolytes.

Development of a battery system – from new materials in the laboratory to a highly reliable working device which can be mass produced identically in any manufacturing plant – requires years of very focused R&D efforts, combined with meticulous safety and durability tests and parallel engineering projects.

On the other hand, the development of new materials for energy storage devices such as batteries also has to take into account a very tight correlation between chemistry – such as structure and morphology – physical conditions such as operating temperature, and the mechanical and electrical properties of the various components of a battery.

But what are all these efforts for? Batteries in electric cars need to have high-energy densities in order to be able to hold massive amounts of charge for a long time and make the cars practical for most drivers, and therefore they have to be built using expensive materials and special processes.

Moreover, charging an electric car is not straightforward. As the battery industries aim to improve the energy density of the batteries for EV, we need to understand that the power density, which is the ability of the battery to deliver those energies, will be affected in the opposite way. This simply means that the batteries with higher energy density will charge more slowly and need more time to fully recharge.

Automotive manufacturers want smaller batteries while they maintain their current capacity, or more miles from the same size batteries we have today in future electric cars. Considering all of these challenges and because electric cars cost a lot to build, and even more than comparable petrol or diesel cars to buy, consumers are reluctant to adopt them.

So it is vital for the EV battery industries to take wiser and faster steps towards research projects, with a focus on reducing the cost, volume and weight of the batteries by investigating new materials, improving electrochemistry, and developing new cell modules.

Associated industries that support the other aspects of EVs also need to bring down the cost, by reducing the weight and volume of the drive system, for example, or increasing the efficiency of power electronics and electric motors.

Alongside the UK Government’s new investments in R&D activities around low carbon vehicles, the Faraday Challenge is a fascinating opportunity for the industrial structures for automotive batteries with innovative ideas in the area of feasibility studies or research and developments projects through collaborating with SMEs.

Contact Nazanin for more information about funding and potential partnerships in batteries and energy storage.