Posted July 8th, 2022 in Article

AMTE Power is leading the development of differentiated Lithium-ion cells.  Here Steve Farmer Head of Technology and Product Development explains the three biggest innovations being developed by the business to bring this longstanding technology into play for an era of accelerated energy transition.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells are currently the most common cell chemistry in the electric vehicle (EV) and energy storage industries.  The technology for Li-ion was first developed in the UK in the 1970s but has now matured to the point where manufacturers are now pushing to enter the next generation of cell development.

Put simply that’s because as the world seeks to decarbonise our energy mix, cells need different characteristics to those we’ve relied on for the last thirty years.  Here are three things we’re working on to drive forward innovation in Li-ion technology and the transition to electric.

More energy, more power.

EVs in particular are in demand of cells which offer both high energy and power.  Energy refers to the amount of electricity stored in the cell and can help determine the range of the vehicle, where power dictates how quickly this is transferred to the motor.

This is true for a typical family car, but it’s especially important with high performance or heavy duty EVs such as sports cars and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) – both of which demand superior levels of both energy and power to match the driver’s expectations.  Think of it as the shift in acceleration to get a high performance car to full speed in seconds, or the added power to propel a lorry up a steep hill.

Our Ultra High-Power (UHP) cell has been designed to specifically cater to these needs, without compromising on weight or thermal performance.  This is largely down to the work we’ve done to optimise the c-rate of the cell, that is: the rate at which the battery can fully charge and discharge in parts of an hour.  Our cells can reach c-rates over twice as much as the current market standard, meaning AMTE Power’s products are already pushing industry boundaries.  As well as being used exclusively in EVs, there are also huge opportunities to combine our UHP cell as part of alternative powertrains including with hydrogen fuel cells, often referred to as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Sourcing alternative materials.

Another key area of investment for us in material abundance and interrogating established supply chains for alternatives.  Up until very recently, Li-ion cell development has had a focus on increasing the nickel content in cells, as a key material which can help drive up the performance of the battery.  But with recent global pressures leading to disrupted supply and rising costs, attention has shifted to looking at other elements.

In some cases this may mean looking at how we can use alternatives to nickel while maintaining high performance.  Other options are to look at using materials, such as silicon, manganese oxide and even iron, to maintain energy and power densities.  These alternatives do come with their own challenges, such as the potential for swelling or lowering of  the specific energy density – but we are discovering means to manage these, in the same way that early pioneers of Li-ion cells did.  Next generation Li-ion cells are looking at how we can mitigate these challenges to get the maximum performance from using alternative materials, or less material altogether.

This will help drive down the cost of cell manufacture too as we can build a robust supply chain with easier to source, more sustainable options.

Increasing longevity and recyclability.

As the EV market continues to rapidly grow, with expectations of reaching a 20 per cent market share by 2023, attention is also turning to ensuring the longevity of batteries.  The next generation of Li-ion cells will have longer cycle life, but will also ensure that the materials used within them can be recycled for use at the end of life.

In the past decade, EVs have developed to expand the range and life of the batteries, meaning cars can go further on a single charge and batteries can maintain performance after thousands of charges.  This development is set to continue.

What we’re also looking at, is ensuring the materials that go into cells can be recycled to make new cells. This is better for the environment as it can reduce the need for further extraction of raw materials.

Li-ion technology already allows us to design and manufacture some of the most advanced and high performing cells on the market today.  But as innovators, we’re developing the next generation of these battery cells which perform better, last longer and continue to push performance boundaries.