New Cambridge-led research could improve performance of EV batteries

With all eyes on sustainability and reducing carbon emissions as much as possible, the role of electric vehicles (EVs) has never been more pertinent. However, talk to most EV naysayers and they’ll tell you about range anxiety – the fear that an EV will run out of juice before it reaches its intended destination, leaving its occupants stranded.

Now, new research by a team led by the University of Cambridge could lead to EV battery performance improvements.

Lithium ion movement is hampering battery performance

During their research, the Cambridge-led team discovered that the irregular movement of lithium ions could be hampering the performance and capacity of next-generation battery materials.

Previously, it was thought that the way lithium ion particles were stored inside a battery was uniform. But the new research has revealed it’s anything but.

Specifically, as a battery is nearing the end of its discharge cycle, the active particles’ surfaces become lithium saturated. Meanwhile, their cores are lithium deficient, causing a reduction in capacity and the loss of reusable lithium.

“This is the first time that this non-uniformity in lithium storage has been directly observed in individual particles,” said co-first author Alice Merryweather, from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry. “Real-time techniques like ours are essential to capture this while the battery is cycling.”

Funded by the The Faraday Institution, the study might help advance existing battery materials and hasten the creation of next-generation batteries.

Commenting on the findings, co-first author Dr Chao Xu, from ShanghaiTech University, said the findings were important in light of the fact that nickel-rich cathode materials typically lose around ten per cent of their capacity after the first charge-discharge cycle.

“This is significant, considering one industry standard that is used to determine whether a battery should be retired or not is when it has lost 20 per cent of its capacity,” he said.

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