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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Battery Breakthrough Solves Major Electric Car Problem

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. Related: It’s Adapt Or Die For U.S. Refiners

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.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Shawn Maynard on June 04 2019 said:
    The dry cell technology is also why Tesla just bought Maxwell. Not sure if the process is the same but seems like the result is.
  • Paul GOVAN on June 04 2019 said:
    A refreshingly savvy report from a rather unlikely media source ie. an oil specialist.
    Good to see that sodium ion cells are being produced using this dry technique: a certain John B Goodenough should be impressed. Sodium ion seemed to have become a taboo subject over the past two years - will this accelerate its emergence as a much-needed rival to lithium ion?
    Paul G
  • M Polisak on June 05 2019 said:
    Sounds very similar to the process that Tesla inherited by purchasing Maxwell
  • Daniel McCully on June 05 2019 said:
    Ah, just like the battery production method discovered by Maxwell Technologies, and then bought by Tesla. It will be interesting to see how much the batteries improve with this new method.

    Funny it's being talked about like it was just discovered though. Tesla will be using this production method soon.
  • gordon jackson on June 05 2019 said:
    This is not the root problem facing electric vehicles. Range and recharge times are. I can drive from Toronto to Saskatoon (a trip I do often) in my truck in three days; it takes me 15 minutes to fill and that tank will take me 900Km. The equivalent in the best electric vehicles today would take 8 days; drive 400km (if you are lucky) and spend the rest of the day recharging (assuming you are lucky enough to have a charging station every 400km. By truck I will spend two nights in hotel. my electric vehicle I will spend 7; more than offsetting any benefits. Not to mention the truck will haul 15,000 lbs of cargo while the electric vehicle will haul 500 Lbs at best.

    I live in a condo in toronto, not a charging station in sight. multiply that by a million for the GTA. Retrofitting those with charging stations would be prohibitively costly and will never happen. New condo developers offer a $15000 option to install a charging station but that can only be done in a small percentage of units due to engineering reasons. Investors, who are the largest group of codo purchases dont purchase these options. with housing costs these days, very few will pay the extra.

    I was hoping from the headline that something new was happening on charging rates and ranges. Guess I was wrong.

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