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Better Batteries for Electric Cars
August 29, 2014   
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A group of chemists, physicists and engineers from the AGH University of Science and Technology in the southern Polish city of Cracow are working to upgrade batteries used in electric cars.

As more electric vehicles hit the roads every year, scientists around the world are working to upgrade electric car technology. Among them is a group of Polish researchers led by Prof. Janina Molenda from the Department of Hydrogen Energy at the AGH University of Science and Technology.

The university’s researchers, among them chemists, physicists and materials science experts, are focusing on Li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries that are used not only in laptops and cell phones, but also in electric cars. The main goal is to develop new electrode materials, chiefly nanocomposites with high chemical and thermal stability.

High-performance Li-ion batteries require quality cathode material. If the researchers manage to improve the parameters of lithium batteries—especially if they manage to increase their reversible capacity and density—these batteries will become lighter, safer and far more durable.

Today electric cars use batteries that need to be recharged after less than 160 km. After the capacity of the batteries is increased, electric cars will be able to travel 500 km without recharging, researchers say. At the same time, the life span of the batteries could be extended to 10 years, or several thousand battery charging and discharging cycles.

The AGH scientists are working on the project together with colleagues from institutions including the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and the Institute of Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The project is called “A new tool in the design of functional materials for Li-ion cells” and is scheduled to be completed next year.

“Research is in progress. Lithium cell technology has tremendous opportunities for development,” says Molenda, who has been dealing with this field of research for 30 years. “These are related to the discovery of new groups of materials with specific crystal structure properties, enabling quick transport of lithium ions and electrons at room temperature, which means the temperature at which the battery operates. My research into the processes and mechanisms occurring in lithium batteries shows that the electron structure of electrode materials used in lithium cells plays a decisive role. It determines the basic parameters of the cells such as voltage, energy density, volume, and current density.”

The researchers have already designed two new electrode materials for lithium batteries. One of these materials is based on layered nickel-cobalt-manganese oxides. The other is based on an iron compound, specifically lithium-iron phosphate, which is the most stable among known cathode materials and ensures a voltage of 3.5V.

The researchers have also developed an eco-friendly, low-temperature method of synthesizing this compound. The method yields an electrochemically active nanostructural cathode material that makes it possible to make use of 95 percent of the theoretical capacity of the material. This has already been submitted for patenting.

Pilot-scale production of batteries based on the two cathode materials developed by Molenda’s team will get under way within two years at the AGH Energy Center, a new zl.200 million research facility that is still under construction and that will house 38 specialized laboratories for research into electricity, batteries, fuel cells and co-generation technology.

Teresa Bętkowska
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