The mobility rEVolution: Zero-cobalt cathode for highly stable lithium-ion batteries

US researchers say they have developed a way to make cobalt-free lithium-ion battery cathodes, while Ford says it has broken ground on a new $5.6 billion production complex for electric vehicles and batteries.

University of California researchers and academics from four US national laboratories have devised a way to make lithium-ion battery cathodes without using cobalt – a metal that is rare, costly, and linked to unethical mining practices. In a recent paper in Nature, the scientists describe how they overcame thermal and chemical-mechanical instabilities of cathodes composed substantially of nickel by mixing in several other metallic elements. “Through a technique we refer to as ‘high-entropy doping,’ we were able to successfully fabricate a cobalt-free layered cathode with extremely high heat tolerance and stability over repeated charge and discharge cycles,” said researcher Huolin Xin. “This achievement resolves long-standing safety and stability concerns around high-nickel battery materials, paving the way for broad-based commercial applications.” High-nickel cathodes come with their own challenges, such as poor heat tolerance, which can lead to the oxidization of battery materials, thermal runaway, and even explosion.Although high-nickel cathodes accommodate larger capacities, volume strain from repeated expansion and cont raction can result in poor stability and safety concerns. The researchers sought to address these issues through compositionally complex high-entropy doping using HE-LMNO, an amalgamation of transition metals magnesium, titanium, manganese, molybdenum, and niobium in the structure’s interior, with a subset of these minerals used on its surface and interface with other battery materials. Xin and his colleagues employed an array of synchrotron X-ray diffraction, transmission electron microscopy and 3D nanotomography instruments to determine that their zero-cobalt cathode exhibited an unprecedented volumetric change of zero during repeated use. The highly stable structure is capable of withstanding more than 1,000 cycles and high temperatures, which makes it comparable to cathodes with much lower nickel content.

Ford has broken ground on a $5.6 billion complex for electric vehicles and batteries at BlueOval City in Stanton, Tennessee. The company’s largest and most advanced auto production complex, which is a joint venture with Korean SK Innovation’s SK On, is planned to lay the foundation for Ford to achieve a 2 million EV annual run rate throughout the world by late 2026. “Structural steel is erected less than one year after Ford and SK On announced their $5.6 billion investment to build a revolutionary all-new electric truck and advanced batteries for future Ford and Lincoln vehicles in West Tennessee,” the company said. The nearly 6-square-mile campus will create approximately 6,000 new jobs when production begins in 2025.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that EV sales are on course to hit an all-time high this year, lifting them to 13% of global light duty vehicle sales. It said that EV sales doubled worldwide last year to account for almost 9% of the total car market. It also noted that EVs and lighting are the only two components still fully on track for their 2030 milestones in the IEA’s “Net Zero by 2050” scenario. Despite the outlook for EVs, the IEA said they are “not yet a global phenomenon. Sales in developing and emerging countries have been slow due to higher purchase costs and a lack of charging infrastructure availability.”

LG Energy Solution (LGES) has reinforced its cobalt and lithium supply chain in North America by forging comprehensive collaborations with key suppliers in Canada. The latest arrangements are in line with the South Korean battery maker’s mid- to long-term strategy focusing on the fast-growing North American EV market, as well as the recently adopted Inflation Reduction Act. They envisage that EVs will need to have 80% of critical materials sourced domestically or from a country with which the United States has a free trade agreement in order to access a $7,500 tax credit. LGES signed a binding term sheet with Electra, securing the supply of 7,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate for three years from 2023. In addition, it signed two non-binding agreements with Avalon and Snow Lake to secure a stable supply of lithium. Under the terms of the deals, Avalon will initially supply LGES with lithium hydroxide (11,000 tons per year) for five years, starting in 2025. LGES will also be provided with Snow Lake’s lithium hydroxide (20,000 tons per year) for 10 years once production starts in 2025.

Elli, a Volkswagen subsidiary that manages the group’s charging and energy-related activities in Europe, electricity grid operator Elia Group, and its startup, re.alto, have signed an agreement to accelerate the integration of EVs into the electricity grid. Over the next few years, the signatories will identify possible barriers to EV integration and explore how to showcase its benefits, for example by developing demonstrators. The memorandum of understanding includes four pillars of exploration: price signals/incentives, market design, trusted data, and data security and safe connectivity. “Using the electric vehicle battery as a mobile power bank delivers a triple benefit: Firstly, the climate benefits as renewable energy can be stored and therefore be used more efficiently. Secondly, the electric grid benefits, as the car can contribute toward grid stability, and thirdly, the customer can earn additional revenue with vehicle-to-grid services,” said Elli CEO Elke Temme. “To explore the benefits of this consumer-centric approach, this cooperation with Elia Group is crucial for us.”

Sunwoda plans to build a new battery production facility in Yiwu, in China’s Zhejiang province, with an annual capacity of 50 GWh. According to a stock exchange statement, the battery maker will invest around €3 billion ($2.9 billion) in the new factory to produce cells, modules, packs, and complete battery systems. Construction will be carried out in two phases, with an initial annual capacity of 30 GWh and a further 20 GWh at a later date. The initial investment will be around €1.8 billion, followed by another €1.2 billion for the second phase.

Nio has shipped its first battery swapping station from Hungary to Germany. The Chinese EV manufacturer announced its plant in Hungary in July, as part of its efforts to build 1,000 battery exchange stations outside of China by 2025. The Hungarian plant will serve as the manufacturing, service, and R&D center for Nio’s power products in Europe.

The Climate Group has launched a new zero-emission road transport leadership commitment, EV100+. Five globally recognized businesses – IKEA, Unilever, JSW Steel Limited, A.P. Moller-Maersk, and GeoPost/DPDgroup – are the founding members of the initiative, which aims to get rid of the heaviest, most polluting vehicles currently on roads. Together they have committed to transition their fleet of vehicles over 7.5 tones, known as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs), to zero emission by 2040 in OECD markets, China and India. The new EV100+ complements the EV100 initiative founded by the Climate Group in 2017, in which more than 120 businesses worldwide have committed to convert their fleets with more than over 5.5 million vehicles to electric by 2030.

This post appeared first on PV Magazine.

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