Mobility Portal, Spain
Date: July 9, 2024
Inés Platini
By Inés Platini
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Lightweight and safe battery? IREC and 17 partners introduce a new solution for the eMobility industry

A European consortium composed of 18 partners from the automotive, research, and technology sectors has developed the first complete system based on cobalt-free lithium batteries for electric vehicles. What benefits will it bring?
Lightweight and safe battery? IREC and 17 partners introduce a new solution for the eMobility industry

This is the first complete system based on cobalt-free lithium batteries for electric vehicles, integrating a series of innovations in safety, control, and efficiency designed for the next generation of cells.

What improvements does this technology present?

Firstly, the use of a combination of aluminium and wood in the battery pack instead of steel reduces the weight by 30 per cent.

Regarding the battery assembly as a whole, the reduction is approximately ten per cent.

“We believe that these values ​​could even improve in the coming years,” says Lluís Trilla, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Energy Research of Catalonia (IREC), coordinating partner of the project, to Mobility Portal España.

In addition to a lighter design, it incorporates innovative sensors, algorithms and communication systems developed within the framework of the initiative itself.

Specifically, it will include three main new features. 

One of them is to develop new chemistry to replace cobalt, thus reducing the social and environmental impact associated with this material.

This component allows the cells to operate with greater durability and faster charge cycles, making the challenge of replacing this expensive, toxic and African-dependent metal a considerable one.

For this reason, the consortium is focusing on developing a cathodic composition free of this metal, with the aim of advancing towards the creation of batteries that can fully compete in the market in the future.

How? By replacing cobalt with aluminium oxides and enriching lithium to improve its stability.

Battery system details.

“Another innovation is to increase the battery’s intelligence capacity,” says Lluís Trilla.

Comprised of 96 individual cobalt-free lithium-ion cells , the complete cell system includes temperature, strain and impedance sensors that provide the user with detailed information on its status.

It also has a pressure sensor and a gas detector that can identify any internal reaction, whose data can be continuously monitored to ensure efficient operation at all times.

“With all this we have managed to improve the capacity to control and obtain information on internal performance, thus allowing us to optimize the operation,” says the expert.

The third innovation involves refining the entire stack design

In this regard, work has been done to reduce the environmental impact by automating the manufacturing process and increasing recyclability.

According to IREC Senior Researcher, these three aspects have been successfully achieved

“Several battery prototypes have been assembled and tests are being carried out at the IDIADA centre, in accordance with current automotive sector regulations, to verify that the prototype works as expected,” he explains.

The demonstrator tops out at nearly 20 kilowatts (kW) of power, which is adequate for a light vehicle, but could easily scale up to 100 kW or more

This could be applied to trucks, buses or other large cars that require greater power.

When will it be available on the market?

Currently, the prototype development is at levels 5 and 6 of the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, which assesses the maturity of a technology. 

Level 1 represents the most basic stage and level 9 indicates the most advanced phase.

The next step would be to raise this TRL to 7 or 8, which would allow for homologation and the product’s entry into the market. 

“We estimate that by 2030 some of these innovations can be applied to achieve more sustainable, efficient batteries with optimal performance,” emphasizes Lluís Trilla.

COBRA project.

About the COBRA project

Cobalt is a necessary component for the manufacture of the most common lithium-ion cells. 

In this context, the push for electric mobility is increasing the imbalance between supply and demand, which has led to an increase in the price of the material. 

However, this element has not yet been replaced in lithium-ion batteries.

To address this challenge, the COBRA project aims to develop a cobalt-free cathode. 

This project involves universities, research and technology organisations, SMEs and companies spanning the entire value chain of the European Union battery industry.

With a budget of 12 million euros, the project is co-financed by the European Commission.

Entre los socios se encuentran IREC, CIDETEC, Stockholm University, imec, Uppsala University, Solvionic, Fraunhofer ISIT, Fraunhofer LBF, ReSiTec AS y Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt.

As well as CEA, aentron, Infineon Technologies, TNO, Eurecat, AVL, Applus+ IDIADA, Bax.

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