Breakthroughs in Battery-Research Lead to Greater Demand
Lithium batteries have steadily growing impact on our everyday lives, from batteries in smartphones and computers over electric cars and kitchen utensils to large scale storage of surplus energy from renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar cells. This is why better analysis methods and better battery materials for lithium batteries are of great value, and the recent EU-supported research project Hi-C with participation from five EU countries, incl. Danish Haldor Topsøe and DTU Energy made good progress.
"Project Hi-C achieved incredibly good results. We improved several analysis and research methods, found some stone salts that can potentially double the capacity of lithium battery cathodes, and we developed an in-situ cell based on capillaries, that enables us to look directly into a live battery while it runs", says head of Hi-C project, Professor Poul Norby, DTU Energy.
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One of the major breakthroughs of Hi-C was the development by Uniscan Instruments of a new Scanning Electrochemical Microscope (SECM) test cell, a fourth generation in-situ cell, where researchers can see the electrochemical activity of the cell/battery in situ on the micron scale. Uniscan Instruments also managed to minimize the size of one of the standard test probes from 10 to 1 micrometer (micron).
Partner expects sales to quadruple
A battery consists of many interfaces between electrodes and electrolytes and internally in the individual crystals, and although ion transport in the material itself is very important, the ability to transport ions and electrons through the interfaces is often the limiting factor of a battery. This makes in-situ studies of live batteries vital to both better understanding of batteries and better analysis methods.
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"Researchers and industry have different expectations for the resolution of a testing device when testing batteries. Probes of 10-20-100 microns are good enough when testing large batches of battery materials, while researchers need testing devices that can look at the nanoparticles in a single cell", says Poul Norby.
Managing director John Griffiths from Uniscan Instruments, now renamed Bio-Logic Science Instruments Ltd, explains how working with the knowledgeable and experienced battery researchers in the Hi-C project helped them gain insight into the unique challenges present in the growing market of battery research.
“It helped us to further develop current and future products with battery research in mind. Throughout the Hi-C project it became apparent that tackling the issue of performing measurements in situ would require multiple approaches depending on the needs of a particular researcher. To this end we developed both a sealed cell for working in situ and are developing the means of using our current products within a glovebox environment. We are already experiencing demand to perform measurements in situ from both customers and distributors, and believe that appropriate marketing could cause sales to double”, says John Griffith.
The new capillary based probes are now in production and for sale to laboratories working with corrosion studies, technically relevant research such as batteries, fuel cells and semiconductors and for electrochemistry research in general.
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“We expect our latest instrument, the SECM150, to be used almost exclusively with these capillary based probes, which will allow for the increased resolution to be taken advantage of by users. It is expected that we will sell four times as many SECM150s as current SECM instruments, which will noticeably increase demand for the capillary based probes we developed during the Hi-C project”, explains John Griffiths.
Sound waves and stone salts
Another breakthrough of the Hi-C project was French researchers from CEA developing a method to use ultrasound soundwaves can detect flaws in batteries before they discharge totally as well as calculate the amount of energy left in a battery.
"And our partners in Karlsruhe developed a new material based on stone salts that have the potential to double the capacity of the electrode material. The energy in the battery still depends on the voltage in the battery, but you can take twice as many electrons out of the material as before," says Professor Poul Norby.
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The very good results of project "Novel in situ and in operando techniques for characterization of interfaces in electrochemical storage systems", abbreviated Hi-C, are important for storage of energy, where stability, storage and especially rapid transport of ions and electrons are needed. This is especially important for the energy sector, where i.e. windmills generate large quantities of excess electricity at windy days. Energy that has to be stored for times with less or no wind at all. That kind of batteries have to be able to store a lot of power and release it again quickly and efficiently and that requires improved insights and new materials.
Increased demand for Danish knowhow
While the English, German and French partners in Hi-C developed new measurement methods and new materials, DTU Energy developed techniques for in-situ and calculation methods together with Haldor Topsøe. Denmark is still a small player within battery research, but the demand for Danish knowhow and their development capabilities in the field are increasing rapidly.
“Our help is increasingly in demand”, says Professor Poul Norby.
“We are very good in combining the calculations and experiments, getting us access into larger and bigger projects. We experience a steadily increasing interest in our battery research, both from the EU's overall point of view, but also from German car manufacturers."
Project Hi-C had participation from eight European universities and industrial companies from Sweden, the UK, Denmark, Germany and France and had a budget of 6.3 million Euro.
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The EU-funded project ”Novel in situ and in operando techniques for characterization of interfaces in electrochemical storage systems”, abbreviated Hi-C, had participation from DTU and Haldor Topsøe A/S from Denmark, Université François Rabelais de Tours and Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergie alternatives (CEA) from France, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie and Varta Microbattery GMBH from Germany, the Swedish Uppsala Universitet and the English company Uniscan Instruments Ltd, now renamed Bio-Logic Science Instruments Ltd. The project was funded under the FP7-programm with a budget of 6.3 mill. Euro, of which 4.6 mill. Euro came from EU.
The primary goals of Project Hi-C were to:
- Understand the important interfaces of a functioning battery on an atomic and molecular scale.
- Characterize the formation structure and the formation of interfaces in the battery in situ.
- Develop methods for controlling and designing interfacing, stability and properties.
- Produce ion conductive membranes to study the mechanical and electrochemical properties.
The Hi-C project was extremely successful and resulted in the discovery of the new types of stone salts that can potentially double the capacity of lithium battery cathodic materials, new and much better analytical equipment in the form of better probes, new cell constructions and the system to use acoustic soundwaves to read how much energy is left on batteries.
Read more about the results here.
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