Electromobility is bringing momentum to the energy transition and is one of its key factors. For a long time, the short range of e-vehicles and the inadequate charging infrastructure held back broader social acceptance. Step by step, however, it is arriving: in automotive manufacturing, on the ground, and with drivers. In addition to new technologies, the promoting drivers for this are an increasing awareness of the environment and responsibility, as well as legislation. Politicians are putting together climate protection packages, and manufacturers are investing heavily in their battery development. Various concepts are on the start.
Within the last years, e-mobility-related technologies and materials have been developed successfully. Therefore, automotive companies are gradually scaling back the production of their combustion engines. Energy density increased, and battery power became much cheaper. E-car drivers now reach much more distant destinations on a single charge, and the charging infrastructure is also improving. Most everyday trips involve only short distances anyway, so skepticism dissipates.
Laws are promoting the trend: combustion engines are becoming more expensive due to higher vehicle taxes, the state is offering incentives such as the environmental bonus from the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control, and major cities are introducing low-emission zones. Some countries are banning the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines within the next ten years.
Battery production is now facing some challenges:
Europe is working on its own electromobility regions in order to break its dependence on Asia where 90 percent of the batteries required here still come from. The Scandinavian countries, Germany and Eastern Europe are investing in new factories and plants. Emissions from logistics are to be reduced, leading to close, regional cooperation between car manufacturers, the raw materials processing industry and chemical groups. Factories demand space, renewable energy sources and flexibility to keep technology responsive and sustainable. More flexibility is also required in plant and mechanical engineering, also in order to be able to implement very individual solutions.
The production of batteries for electric vehicles consumes enormous, scarce resources. The industry must be focused on alternative energy generation and new, cost-effective energy storage concepts. This also requires the use of new materials. The development of high-performance batteries is complex. If these are also to be environmentally friendly and economical, this requires intensive interdisciplinary development work.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are still the solution par excellence in mobile and stationary power supply. They paved the way for electromobility and are still primarily in use. The compact batteries boast excellent energy and power density. The extremely limited raw materials lithium and cobalt unfortunately stand out negatively here, as their scarcity as well as the way they are mined are no longer justifiable for many. However, lithium-ion batteries are currently still the safe bet for e-mobility in terms of operating time and range. In lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the positive electrode of the battery is iron phosphate, not cobalt oxide. They have the advantage of a good price-performance ratio, as they do not contain expensive heavy metals such as nickel, manganese and cobalt. This in turn contributes to environmental protection. Furthermore they score with fire resistance and excellent current flow. Disadvantage: The low energy density, which can only be compensated with more cells and thus more weight and size.
Sodium-ion batteries could be the new booster for and complement industry, but are currently still primarily found in stationary applications. They have a loading and unloading efficiency of over 90 percent and their performance is in the range of LFP. Here research is working at full speed and on various projects between European universities and industry that have already attracted interest from Asia.
Polymer-based batteries are already taking the sodium-ion battery approach further. They use polymers as active materials for storing electrical energy. These batteries can be charged quickly. Flexible electrodes can be made, allowing a battery to be used in entirely new ways. Polymer-based batteries dispense with heavy metals and consume significantly less energy. The development of novel metal-free and printable polymer-based energy storage systems opens up completely new application possibilities. Even printable thin-film batteries are already available and highly interesting for the digitization of healthcare. Risks during manufacture, in the event of incorrect operation and in the event of destruction are also reduced here. They are less toxic and flammable. Recycling is more environmentally friendly and cost effective.
Hydrogen technology rounds out the alternatives currently being researched and tested for practicality. Long-haul trucks would be an application example here: In practice, the Mercedes GenH2 hydrogen truck is currently being tested. The “hydrogen battery” stores hydrogen without high pressure or deep freezing as in a rechargeable battery. A storage unit is repeatedly filled with hydrogen by catalysis and the hydrogen is recovered as needed.
It remains exciting to see what the storage concepts of the future will bring and what this will entail for our handling of hazardous goods.
Analytica, Munich Trade Fair: https://analytica.de/de/muenchen/presse/trendberichte/batterieforschung/
DFG, German Research Foundation: https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/422726248?context=projekt&task=showDetail&id=422726248&
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