'Battery research holds promises, but still has a long way to go'

News - 24 September 2019 - Communication TNW

The main difference between the first commercial Li-ion battery produced in 1995, and current state of the art batteries, is the composition of the positive electrode. This the only real difference, says professor Marnix Wagemaker in his inaugural speech at TU Delft on Wednesday September 25th. Battery researchers should therefore critically evaluate their approach if batteries are to fulfil their key role in the energy transition. Follow a livestream of the lecture at Collegerama, or watch the lecture after the event.   

Key role

Batteries will play a key role in the transition towards a renewable energy future, by enabling electrical transport and stationary daily storage of renewable energy. ‘One can find many predictions on the increasing demands for batteries’, says professor Wagemaker, ‘but a more simple way is a very rough, yet insightful calculation. What we have now is a couple of tens of Wh battery energy storage per person, in our tablet/laptop/phones, but a decent car and a house battery would mean at least 1000 times more battery energy per person.’

Shocking

So we need batteries with better performances that are cheaper and safer. ‘Improving batteries has motivated formidable efforts in research in development. We see ten thousands of researchers, countless breakthroughs, countless electrode and electrolyte materials, and in addition to Li-ions and protons we find several promising other charge carriers such Na-ion, K-ion, Mg-ion Al, etc. But if we consider the difference between the first commercial Li-ion battery produced in 1995, and current state of the art batteries, the difference is mainly the composition of the positive electrode. This is the only real difference. This is shocking after the amount of research and development that has been invested’, says Wagemaker.

Failure mechanisms

‘But perhaps this is a bit of a too sceptical view on the battery field as the energy density more than doubled and several new battery chemistries have started to emerge or are about the emerge, and there are countless exiting findings that may help us to develop improved batteries, yet it does underline we have considerable challenges ahead and should critically evaluate our approach. One  aspect that hinders us is that there is too much focus on success, on explaining the improvement, whereas there is little attention towards fundamental research towards the failure mechanisms.’

AI en materials

By understanding more about batteries we don’t automatically build better batteries. Researchers also need to develop better materials based on that understanding, which essentially comes down to developing new materials, electrolyte and electrode materials and especially designing interfaces as these are the heart of batteries.

‘There are the increasing initiatives to use computational methods in designing new materials and better batteries. The most important example of this is the Materials Project, providing a platform at which new materials can quickly be evaluated on their potential battery properties. In Europe there are large ambitions to take this further and include Artificial Intelligence to speed up material discovery. Although I believe computational methods will become increasingly meaningful, I do think the key is to build on the intuition and experience of material scientists.’ 

More information

Inaugaral lecture prof.dr.ir. M. Wagemaker (TNW): Recharge
25 september 2019, starts at 15:00 – Aula, TU Delft
Marnix Wagemaker, m.wagemaker@tudelft.nl, 015 27 83800, homepage
Adviseur communicatie: Dimmy van Ruiten, d.m.vanruiten@tudelft.nl, 015 278 1588
Follow a livestream of the lecture at Collegerama, or watch the lecture after the event.