Australia and India collaborate in lower lithium battery propulsion cost

By: Rob McKay

Commercial vehicles in the mix as researchers eye cheaper high performance

Australia and India collaborate in lower lithium battery propulsion cost
Maria Forsyth


The push to make electric vehicle operation so cheap it can force the issue with fossil fuels has gained impetus, with some help from India.

The collaboration between Monash University, the India Institute of Technology Bombay-Monash Research Academy, and Deakin University, has shown for the first time how inexpensive materials can be used in high performance batteries of the future, the trio has announced.

Though the research is yet to address trucks per se, the focus is on lithium batteries, which are already prominent in light commercial and battery-propelled warehousing vehicles.

But larger vehicles are on the agenda.

"Trucks are certainly in the realms of possibility since logistics normally has a known transportation path and timing, so that recharging a fleet of trucks for example would be viable," study author professor Maria Forsyth, from Deakin University, says. 

At issue is finding a more sustainable way of using lithium batteries, which rely on scarce resources and is challenging to produce on a large scale at affordable prices, Monash University reports.

Now scientists have shown that using a ‘carbon cloth collector’ can improve the sulphur utilisation of batteries, which would make them more efficient.

"Batteries of the future are necessary because in various significant market areas they form a vital part of the transition away from fossil fuels," study author professor Douglas MacFarlane, from the Monash University School of Chemistry, says.

"Integration of renewables into the grid is hampered by the variability of the supply, and battery storage either in the home or at the wind/solar farm is seen as a necessary, but currently very expensive, component of the system."

The research was conducted through a highly innovative PhD program in the IITB-Monash Research Academy – a partnership between the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), India and Monash University.

Deakin University, which has expertise in the prototyping and upscale of the batteries, also played a key role in the study.

The research is part of a longer-term collaboration between Monash, Deakin and the ITTB funded through an Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) project aimed at developing affordable high-performance batteries.

Read about how certain OEMs are already using lithium batteries, here

"The most immediate application of these batteries in India could be in local transportation applications, for example in the auto-rickshaws that are extensively used in Asia as well as smaller electric vehicles," Forsyth says.

"In Australia, we could see such batteries powering EVs, and they could also be used for home battery storage."

She notes that: "The reason I mentioned auto-rickshaws and smaller vehicles is that India has a high density of these currently running on polluting diesel, not to mention noise pollution."

The study describes outstanding performance for a high-energy density room-temperature sodium-sulphur (RT Na-S) battery, with the discovery that a simple chemical activation of a carbon cloth current collector, which researchers fill with a sulphur -based liquid electrolyte, could allow  a Na-S battery to operate at near its theoretical voltage and deliver an energy density of just under 1kWh/kg of sulphur.

The appeal of the Na-S battery is that the raw materials, sodium salts and sulphur are very commonplace and inexpensive.

The battery operates at room temperature and can be charged and discharged at reasonable rates, for example half- an-hour charging and discharging.

"The carbon cloth is the key to the development," Monash University says.

"By activating it in a simple process it becomes a catalytic agent in the discharge process of the sulphur electrode, leading to a higher overall voltage and extended cycle life."


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