The electric revolution is already well underway in the car industry, with the UK Government announcing plans to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030, putting the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise these vehicles. Globally, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) is projected to rise from about 1 million in 2015 to 300 million in 2040. Achieving these goals however, requires low-cost batteries with dramatically improved performance for EV use.
Now Cambridge researchers Professor Simone Hochgreb, Dr Adam Boies and Professor Michaël De Volder will work alongside Professor Kai Luo, from University College London, on experimental and numerical tools as well as production techniques for enhanced materials for electrodes, especially the cathode (positive electrode), used in lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). These developments are required to meet the power density and cost requirements for the next-generation EVs and energy storage systems.
The research, funded by the EPSRC, will combine high-performance cathode materials for LIBs. These materials will be based on layered, multi-element metal oxides (MOs) and carbon-metal oxides (CMOs), with inherent potential for high-speed continuous processing for mass production. The main area of research will focus on nickel manganese cobalt oxides (NMCs) with various metal contents and surface features, which are favoured by mainstream automotive companies due to the high number of charge and discharge cycles the NMC battery can withstand. However, the research and production techniques explored – including flame spray pyrolysis (FSP) – will be applicable for a large class of MOs and CMOs.
FSP is a promising method used to produce a wide variety of functional materials in the form of powders (nanoparticles) and in large quantities. It is an effective and scalable industrial process that is easy to handle and one that maintains excellent product quality. Professor Hochgreb will work on flame synthesis; Dr Boies on nanoparticle synthesis; Professor De Volder on nanomaterial and batteries; and Professor Luo on modelling and simulation. Their work will be directly linked to battery performance metrics, in collaboration with four companies: Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), University of Cambridge spin-out Echion Technologies, TFP Hydrogen Products (formerly PV3 Technologies), and Shanghai Tang Feng Energy Technology (STFET).
Professor Simone Hochgreb said: “The long-term outlook for electric vehicles (EVs) is strong, with the electrification of the transport sector considered a natural development in order to make use of energy from a wide variety of sources, and to reduce CO2 emissions and combat urban air pollution.
“One of the biggest obstacles facing us in making the transition to EVs is the charging infrastructure itself, which is why research is needed to ensure that the power density and cost requirements for next-generation EVs and energy storage systems are met.
“Our manufacturing technique for lithium-ion batteries using flame spray pyrolysis is a one-step continuous process with the potential to produce designer materials at scale and low cost.”