Batteries Driving the Future of Electric Vehicles

9 October 2015 - // Features

Batteries Driving the Future of Electric Vehicles

Following up on the 2007 European Commission strategy, the EU has put in place a comprehensive legal framework to reduce CO2 emissions from new, light duty vehicles (LDV) – cars and vans – as part of efforts to ensure it meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol and beyond. The legislation sets binding emission targets for new car and van fleets. In parallel, to help drivers choose new cars with low fuel consumption, EU Member States are required to ensure that relevant information is provided to consumers, including a label showing the fuel efficiency and CO2 performance of cars.

Berlin traffic and intersection. Photo: David Moraldo

European Green Vehicles Initiative

A contractual public-private partnership (PPP), the European Green Vehicles Initiative (EGVI) is dedicated to delivering green vehicles and mobility system solutions. Established as a continuation of a previous such program, it aims to accelerate research, development, and the demonstration of technologies for the efficient use of clean energies in road transport.

The EGVI is one of three PPPs included in the European Commission’s recovery package (“a comprehensive action plan for a coordinated response to the economic crisis”). Its envelope of €5 billion is expected to help boost the automotive industry in a time of economic hardship, and support the development of new, sustainable forms of road transport. To do this, three streams of action are being followed:

  • R&D, mainly through FP7 and Horizon 2020 grants for research on greening road transport. Budget: €1 billion, of which €500 million from the EC, matched by €500m from industry and Member States
  • support for industrial innovation through European Investment Bank (EIB) loans. Budget: €4 billion (in addition to existing loans)
  • demand side measures & public procurement, such as the reduction of registration taxes for low CO2 cars.

The wide range of EGVI research topics encompasses cars, trucks, greening internal combustion engines, bio methane use, logistics, transport system optimization, and electric and hybrid vehicles, with a particular emphasis on electric engines and smart electricity.

All in all the electric vehicle (EV) is ‘greener’ than its internal combstion counterparts; and at its heart lies the battery.

An example of a project ongoing under the EGVI umbrella is COSIVU – Compact Smart and Reliable Drive Unit for Commercial Electric Vehicles. The partners behind this three-year initiative, funded to the sum of €5.2 million and due to end in September 2015, have developed a novel system architecture for drive-trains consisting of a smart, compact, and durable single-wheel drive unit, including the following features:

  • integrated electric motor
  • inverter with SiC-based power electronics
  • novel control and health-monitoring system with wireless communication
  • advanced ultra-compact cooling solution

The benefits to be gained from this innovation are significant weight reduction, less switching losses, increased energy efficiency, and an extended driving range for commercial vehicles. During the final six months of the project, this unique drive unit has been finalized for use in both a commercial vehicle and passenger car.

Boosting  the Battery

Part of the strategy to ‘clean up’ the EU’s transport sector depends on the rise of the electric vehicle (EV). Because although the latter is responsible for a certain amount of C02 emissions – generated when taking electrical energy from a fossil fuel powered grid – when in operation, it produces none. All in all, the EV is ‘greener’ than its internal combustion counterparts. 

EU legislation sets binding emissions targets for new car and van fleets

At the heart of the EV lie its batteries. In the coming years, Lithium-ion (Li-Ion), the reference technology for plug-in and full EVs (PHEVs & BEVs), is expected to dominate the market by 2017. Compared with other battery types on the market (lead-acid and nickel metal hydride, NiMH), Li-Ions have the highest energy density and a shorter charge time. However, the lion’s share of their production is currently coming out of North America and Asia; leaving Europe’s manufacturing industry, with its lower capacity, lagging behind.

The only way Europe can become competitive with these countries in battery production is by developing new chemistry/technologies based on innovative materials and processes in the manufacturing value chain in order to deliver the following benefits:

  • a more environmentally friendly production method for battery components
  • a swifter battery assembly procedure, and
  • easier and more effective disassembly and end-of-life recycling
London has a city-wide network of electric vehicle (EV) charging points. Details of Elecktomotive Charging Point. Photo: Tom Lee/ Transport for London (TfL)

Eco-Designed Processes

In response to the above, the EU is backing a large-scale collaborative project called GREENLION  – running from 2012-2015 – that is focusing on the industrial development of eco-designed processes at electrode, cell and battery module levels.

Its 16 partners (industry, research, and universities) from 7 Member States are establishing a process for manufacturing greener and cheaper Li-Ion batteries for EV applications – via the use of high thermally stable binders that are both water-soluble and fluorine-free. Such an approach would eliminate the use of volatile organic compounds (VOC, some of which are dangerous to human health or harm the environment), reduce the costs of cell assembly, and render the disassembly and end-of-life recycling of the batteries easier and more effective. To achieve these end goals, the tasks are divided into the following six work packages:

  • new materials: development of new active and inactive battery materials viable for water processing (green chemistry)
  • innovative electrode processes (coating from aqueous slurries): leading to reduced electrode production cost and environmental pollution
  • elaboration of new assembly procedures (including laser cutting and high temperature pre-treatment) capable of substantially decreasing the time and costs of cell fabrication
  • lighter battery modules with air cooling and easier disassembly through eco-designed bonding techniques
  • •  development of an automated module and battery pack assembly line for increased production output and reduced costs
  • •  waste reduction: making use of the water solubility of the binder allows extensive recovery of the active and inactive battery materials

GREENLION is targeting the industrial processes at electrode,cell and battery module levels

In June 2015, the team presented results so far on the upscaling of active materials manufacturing (graphite anodes), the integration of the electronics in the battery module, and the design of production lay-outs for automated assembly of battery modules. In addition, the recycling logos designed for eco-labelling were presented. “Altogether, these improvements will allow higher energy efficiency and substantial cost reductions, thus ensuring real competitiveness for Li-Ion batteries based on new technologies,” commented project coordinator Iosu Cendoya of Spain’s Fundacion CIDETEC.

Before the project end in October 2015, partners Volkswagen and SEAT will assess the final assembled battery module to see whether it meets the specifications required for EVs.

Berlin traffic. Photo: David Moraldo

Steering in the Right Direction

In April 2015, provisional figures published by the European Environment Agency show CO2 emissions from new cars sold in 2014 fell 2.6% to an average of 123.4 grams per kilometer (g/km), compared to 127 in 2013 and 132.2 in 2012. This means the legal target of 130g/km set for 2015 has been met two years early. “The 2015 CO2 target has already been achieved – this is good news,” responded former Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “This clearly demonstrates the efficiency of the EU’s legislation in driving change. It also shows that European car-makers are already steering towards the 2021 target of 95g, and therefore proving us right when we said that the 2015 target was both achievable and cost effective.”

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