Tech

E-car: Germans are developing batteries with amazing abilities

It is a well-known fact that the ranges of electric cars still have to increase considerably and the charging station network has to be expanded drastically so that the electric car can be mass-produced. But electromobility faces a whole range of other challenges. The startup Innolith, based in Basel, wants to solve these problems with its innovative battery technology.

Lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in almost all electric cars or smartphones today, can burn very quickly. Damaging the battery pack can result in dangerous explosions, such as the Tesla-S crashed in Florida in May. Another example is the debacle surrounding the burning Samsung smartphone Galaxy Note 7 due to a production error.

The reason for the high flammability of lithium-ion batteries is the electrolyte used. It is an organic liquid that transports electrical charge between the two electrodes of the battery. If it leaks, it can easily catch fire.

Innolith batteries do not contain cobalt and are not flammable

E-car batteries in use today also contain the rare metal cobalt. It is central to the charging and discharging of the battery because it stabilizes the chemistry in the battery cells. However, it is funded under inhumane conditions in countries of the global south such as the Congo.

Another unsolved problem of electromobility concerns the demands on the power grids. According to many experts, the simultaneous charging of a large number of electric cars and other electric vehicles would place a heavy burden on today’s distribution networks and could lead to disruptions if the networks are not stabilized. In addition, the generation of electricity with photovoltaic, wind power and other renewable energy sources is unpredictable, since it depends on factors such as wind strength or sunshine duration. As long as there is no suitable storage technology available, the complete replacement of fossil fuels and nuclear power with renewable energies remains difficult.

The startup Innolith, founded in 2018 – a new word from Inorganic, Innovation and Lithium – develops batteries that could solve all of the above problems in one fell swoop. Central to the new technology is an inorganic electrolyte that the company created. In contrast to the organic electrolytes commonly used today, it consists of the three main components lithium chloride, aluminum chloride and sulfur dioxide. The mixture is not flammable. In addition, the electrodes for batteries consist primarily of the common mineral graphite, the metals lithium and iron, and phosphate – cobalt is not required at all.

Innolith batteries are said to cost a third less than conventional lithium-ion batteries in electric cars

But that’s not all Innolith technology has to offer. The start-up scientists made a groundbreaking discovery in the development of the electrolyte in Bruchsal, Baden, where the company has its research and development center. With conventional performance, the Innolith batteries have a lifespan of more than 50,000 charging cycles – that’s ten times more common than lithium-ion batteries.

But that’s not all Innolith technology has to offer. The start-up scientists made a groundbreaking discovery in the development of the electrolyte in Bruchsal, Baden, where the company has its research and development center. With conventional performance, the Innolith batteries have a lifespan of more than 50,000 charging cycles – that’s ten times more common than lithium-ion batteries.

“In the beginning we were concerned with the development of a non-combustible electrolyte,” explains Markus Borck, head of the Innolith research center, in an interview with NewsABC.net. “When the batteries lasted longer than usual, we just let the tests continue. We were surprised by the long service life ourselves. ”According to Innolith, with their long durability, the batteries only cost between a third and a tenth of conventional lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in electric cars.

When they are used, they should first be used as storage for power networks. The technology should make it possible to store excess electricity when the sun, wind or water produce more energy than is currently required by the power grids. In Germany, wind turbines and photovoltaic systems have to be disconnected regularly if this happens so that the power grids are not overloaded. The energy generated fizzles out.

The e-car as a means of mass transport can lead to serious disruptions in the electricity networks

Charging e-cars with electricity from renewable energies also means that the patterns of energy generation and consumption change quickly. This means that electricity storage systems must be able to store a lot of energy within a very short period of time and return it to the grids. The problem is to be solved with the energy storage function of large Innolith battery blocks, the so-called grid banks. With a capacity of two gigawatts, a grid bank can switch between loading and unloading within half an hour.

A prototype has already proven itself in the US state of Maryland, where it stabilizes the grid for the energy supplier PJM and provides the power supply for private households and companies. In a grid bank, 2,000 Innolith battery modules are interconnected, which contain a total of 14,000 individual cells. They are installed in a freight container that can be transported by ship or truck. The Grid Bank in Maryland can store and deliver energy for up to one megawatt hour and, according to Innolith, achieves peak performance of an average of 96 percent.

“The big players in the battery market are all working on energy storage for electricity grids. Our unique selling point, however, is the high performance of the Grid Bank with the required short response times in the power grid, ”Innnolith research manager Borck told NewsABC.net.

Innolith plans to mass produce from 2020

Mass production of the Innolith network storage is scheduled to begin in 2020; direct application of Innolith batteries in end customer products such as e-cars or smartphones is also being considered, albeit at an early stage of development.

The manufacturing of the Innolith batteries should be carried out by partner companies: “Battery production is a mature industry, so the cell assembly should be carried out by manufacturing experts who can contribute their skills and experience in order to achieve high quality at low costs. To this end, Innolith will work with market leaders and concentrate on its core competencies in research and development, product design and specialty chemicals, ”explains Managing Director Alan Greenshields about his strategy.

The idea of ​​an inorganic electrolyte is not new. Technology theories have existed since the early 1990s. Since 2004, a large part of today’s Innolith researchers in Bruchsal in Baden have been working on the miracle batteries. Two startups for the development of technology have already been founded there with the participation of Greenshields, Fortu and Alevo. Both companies had to file for bankruptcy due to financing difficulties.

Read also: A 77-year-old entrepreneur may have solved one of the biggest problems with electric cars

However, this time it will be different. “I think at Innolith we have the right partners on our side,” says Markus Borck, who has been involved in the development of the new batteries since Fortu times. The managing director does not want to say anything more about the investors, but a spokesman for the Russian oligarch Dmitri Rybolowlew confirmed to the technology portal “Wired” that the billionaire is one of the financiers. Rybolowlew was the owner of the Russian mining company Uralkali until 2010, and his assets are estimated at over $ 9 billion.

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