Twente helps advance battery technology, taking steps in energy transition

Twente helps advance battery technology, taking steps in energy transition

Batteries play an important key role in the transition to a sustainable future. In Twente, knowledge institutions and the business community are working hard to advance battery technology.

Mark Huijben, a professor at the University of Twente, recently made a new discovery: a new material for use in batteries, which ensures a significantly higher charging rate. And there is more happening in the region: how can you be sure that a battery will not catch fire? A brand new Battery Safety Lab is being set up.

Batteries are part of a green future: they make transport in electric cars and buses possible and play a role in the storage of sustainable energy. In the Twente region, several companies are working on the application of battery systems. For example, Demcon is developing new production technology for high-quality batteries, and Super B supplies battery systems for a wide range of electric vehicles.

Discovery at the University of Twente

At the University of Twente, too, research into battery technology does not stand still and all activities are brought together within the Twente Centre for Advanced Battery Technology. Technology is constantly advancing and ever-higher demands are being placed on batteries. For applications in electric transport, a battery must be able to recharge quickly, but also have a high energy density in order to be able to bridge long distances. In practice, it is often a ‘trade off’ between fast charging and energy density. Professor Huijben’s invention changes this.

By making the anode of lithium-ion batteries from a completely new material, nickel niobate, the charging speed can be increased up to ten times. Huijben: “You can charge ultra-fast with it and moreover, the energy that can be put into it is still high: higher than with the materials for fast charging that were known until now.” In addition to a high charging rate, the material has other advantages. For example, it is easy to apply by today’s industry. “Everyone knows them: the cylindrical batteries. The automotive industry still uses them. But a telephone battery has a different shape. The material we have developed is not an obstacle in this. You can apply it in different forms.

Trucks and buses

Applications are obvious where the charging speed counts, but also the discharge speed: quickly supplying a lot of power and also quickly getting it back to the right level. Huijben indicates that especially truck traffic and buses will benefit from the discovery. “No single material can be charged at an ultra-fast rate and still contain a lot of energy. You have to make choices. If we look at electric cars, then you don’t want to compromise on the maximum distance that you can drive. What’s more, charging in half an hour, rather than a few minutes, is actually fine. I therefore expect that we will mainly see our fast-charging battery in trucks and buses, where speed is even more important, and where a larger battery, and therefore a little extra weight, is also not an issue.

Next steps

Currently, Huijben is still in the research phase. “There are still questions we need to get answers to. For example, what happens if we replace lithium, an element that is currently always used in batteries, with another element? Lithium has a limited presence on Earth, so what if we replace it with a more durable material like sodium, which we can extract from seawater?

In addition, the professor is in talks with industry. “What is the next step to start testing our material on a large scale? Which partners can we start working with? There is already a lot of focus in the industry on materials for fast charging. If you just look at the companies that are working on batteries here in Twente, you can see that things are being done in all directions and that in the future we will see more and more applications when it comes to batteries. Large companies like Toyota are also working hard to take batteries to the next level. This company has its own large research facility and is betting on the solid-state battery, which is a lot safer than the liquid-state batteries. Perhaps they will come onto the market with that in the coming years.

Several Dutch companies will make use of his invention in the future, according to Huijben. “There are partnerships set up in the Netherlands in which knowledge institutions, the industry and ministries work together to increase knowledge about batteries. These include major players such as VDL, which focuses on buses, DAF, which focuses on trucks, and Damen, which deals with transport on water. Together we will look at what is possible. I’m confident that manufacturers will start working with the new material in the future.

Battery Safety Lab

Much more is happening in Twente when it comes to batteries. For example, at the end of this year a Battery Safety Lab (BSL) will be set up, a collaboration between the Twente Safety Campus and the company Det Norske Veritas (DNV). The lab will perform fire safety tests on batteries and battery storage systems. Whereas Huijben focuses on the cell level, the BSL looks at entire battery packs: from small batteries in electric bicycles to the 100 kilowatt-hour batteries in a Tesla.

Tanja Guyken is project manager of the BSL. “It’s a pretty unique project. Dthis will be the first test center in Europe. Still, tests with batteries are done in the backyard. There is little regulation for it at the moment, but we expect the government to take additional steps in the coming years. Safety above all else: if a manufacturer sells a battery for electric cars they must be able to demonstrate what will happen should a battery catch fire.

In the BSL, companies can get answers to questions related to fire safety. “Will the fire be confined to one module? And is a battery fireproof if you drop it? You hope so, of course, but if not, we have a gas scrubber that filters harmful substances from the smoke. That’s how we keep it safe for people who move around the area.

The fire department is also involved in the BSL. “In this way, we as the fire department also gain knowledge about the fire behaviour of battery packs so that we can advise fire department colleagues on adequate fighting techniques and also make our contribution within the energy transition,” said Guykens.

Guyken expects to have the permits needed for the building completed within six months. “And right after that we can start building. I expect the BSL to be in use by the end of this year.


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