Catalan researchers lead search for sustainable electric vehicle batteries
IREC institute coordinates European project aiming to develop ethical devices capable of overcoming current lifetime and capacity limitations
A major Catalan energy research center is coordinating an ambitious European project involving 19 partners from 9 different countries to develop a new generation of batteries for electric vehicles that will overcome the lifetime and capacity limitations of today's devices.
The Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) is heading the COBRA project, whose main aim is to develop lithium, cobalt-free batteries made with new energy storage materials that incorporate intelligent sensors to help enhance their energy efficiency.
COBRA, which has a budget of almost 12 million euros over 4 years, and is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, includes major stakeholders in the battery sector, such as universities, tech firms, and research groups.
Challenge of mass-producing batteries
With road transport accounting for almost 30% of CO2 emissions in Europe, the increasing need for electric vehicles poses the challenge of producing energy-efficient batteries on a large scale, which is further complicated by the use of ethically dubious materials like cobalt.
"Not only are we considering the technological and economic barriers of electric vehicle batteries, we’re considering social and environmental aspects, even more so due to the climate emergency we are currently experiencing," says Dr. Jordi Jacas, coordinator of the COBRA project at IREC.
As a result, the project incorporates environmental impact studies to help ensure that the carbon footprint of the end product is reduced, by eliminating cobalt and other toxic or scarce elements, while using metal components with recyclability of more than 95%.
Smart tech to improve battery life and safety
Also, the batteries will include sensors and an advanced management system to reduce environmental impact and increase their 'useful life' (the number of charging and discharging cycles a battery can go through before its capacity degrades significantly).
"The incorporation of intelligence in the batteries will not only improve their behavior but also reduce the cost and increase the safety of the device", says Dr. Lluís Trilla, principal researcher in power systems management at IREC.
Ultimately, the project aims for a fully functional electric vehicle battery made of advanced materials that are lighter and more resistant to impact and fire, which avoids the use of scarce and toxic elements, reducing the cost and improving the batteries' sustainability.
The project is being promoted by the Barcelona-based innovation consultancy, Bax & Company, and according to materials expert at the firm, Marcos Ierides, "the objectives and activities of COBRA are in line with Europe’s strategic goals of developing the next generation of high-performing, sustainable batteries made in Europe."