Around 90% of lithium-ion cells are currently produced in Asia and there are various efforts in Europe to set up their own battery production. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) are developing a cell concept in this context: it will be sustainable and based exclusively on ecologically and economically uncritical materials.
“What is special about this project is that we are working together to cover all steps of the battery value chain, from material development to prototype cell production and recycling,” explains Professor Stefano Passerini, Director of the HIU. His research group is developing the novel, cobalt-free cathode material with non-critical elements such as iron or aluminum. Cobalt is listed by the European Commission as a critical raw material because it is a scarce resource and geopolitically difficult to access, which can lead to supply bottlenecks. Moreover, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where most of the extraction takes place, the element is sometimes extracted with child labour and inhumane conditions. “At the same time, we want to significantly increase the lithium content in the coating oxide cathode compared with conventional materials in order to achieve a significant increase in energy density,” says Passerini.
Five project partners will also work on the concept of a closed-loop economy in order to identify further applications. Scenarios are conceivable in which “low-age” batteries from electric cars are combined and reused as stationary storage units. The anode and electrolyte concept also follow this sustainability concept, so that in the end a recycling rate of over 50% is to be achieved. The nanostructures of the anode are designed in such a way that a long cycle stability can be made possible by an ideal geometry with high mass loads. The structure of the anode will be optimized by modeling in such a way that volume expansion and mechanical deformation can be buffered in the best possible way while maintaining maximum energy density. The newly developed solid electrolyte is based on ionic liquids, which provide greater stability at high voltages, maximum safety and low flammability.
The project, funded by the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020”, brings together the activities of a total of 17 scientific and industrial institutions from eight countries.
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