TU Delft focuses on battery of the future

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A major challenge in the energy transition is the efficient and flexible storage and transportation of renewable energy. Batteries will play an important role in this. However, much research and innovation are still required. In order to encourage this, on Thursday 11 May 2023 TU Delft will be launching e4BatteryDelft: a brand-new platform that will focus on electrochemical storage of renewable energy - with respect for the world around us, in a way that is affordable and also totally European.

TU Delft has all the expertise required to play an important role in accelerating the energy transition in-house. With around a thousand energy researchers, TU Delft is one of Europe’s largest research institutes in this field. Consequently, many researchers have been working (closely) with start-ups and field labs on battery-related innovations. Some of the researchers working on batteries will be meeting on Thursday 11 May 2023 at the launch of e4BatteryDelft. They will be sharing their expertise in fields such as mining, design, engineering, construction, implementation and recycling in order to develop a future-proof sustainable battery that can be produced in Europe. As a preview, we would like to present four of them below.

Can we develop batteries that are made from raw materials other than cobalt or nickel, or even without lithium, which are less scarce or have less impact on the environment without compromising on performance? In Delft, new materials are being developed for the next generations of batteries. "Battery research has been going on for a long time but you might say that it is still in its infancy," says professor Marnix Wagemaker. He sees an opportunity in this: "There are still a lot of possibilities. We are currently dependent on critical elements such as cobalt, nickel and lithium. There are alternatives, but they don’t work as well yet. We are looking at new materials that are less scarce and can be extracted with less impact on the environment but without compromising on performance so that electric cars can travel just as far and be charged up just as quickly, for example. And we are looking at materials that are cheaper for the storage of wind or solar energy."

Wagemaker started the e4BatteryDelft initiative because collaboration with other battery experts within TU Delft is essential: "My background is in physics and I carry out materials research (studying electrochemical energy storage processes in batteries) but what is just as important is where and how material is extracted, whether it can be recycled, how the battery is used, et cetera - these are things that have to be thought about during development."

The TU Delft profile of Marnix Wagemaker. One of the things that Wagemaker has worked on is this study which has doubled the life of batteries in smartphones and electric cars - reducing costs and leading to less waste.

Pavol Bauer - Professor of Electrical Sustainable Energy and Head of the DC Systems, Energy Conversion and Storage (DCE&S) group

Batteries will play a crucial role in the energy transition, what is more: sustainable energy is not possible without batteries. They are necessary for transport: electric ships, planes and trucks will need batteries. They can also store solar and wind energy. "But a battery can do a lot more than just store energy: for example, it can also absorb peaks or improve voltage quality or help prevent traffic jams," says professor Pavol Bauer. In his research projects, he looks at such things as the role of batteries for the distribution network, the battery as a means of improving voltage quality, how batteries can make buildings energy-neutral and what role energy hubs with batteries play for industry. "We are currently looking at airports, for example: how we can use batteries to electrify various vehicles there."

The focus of his battery research is the storage of electricity and the integrality of storage systems within the energy system of the future, both for the electrification of mobility and for the electricity network itself. The use of electric batteries provides opportunities for creating a fully sustainable energy system.

You may think of batteries mainly as small electronic devices but in the near future, we are going to start needing much larger batteries and also use them on a large scale. In a successful energy transition, virtually everything will become electric and batteries and the storage of electricity will therefore have an extremely important role.

Shoshan Abrahami is investigating the technical side of battery recycling. "Put simply, you have two ways of recycling batteries: the pyrometallurgical route and the hydrometallurgical route. The first (pyro is Greek for fire) involves heat: you melt the material. The second (hydro is Greek for water) involves water or chemicals: you try to dissolve the material. In a sustainable future for battery recycling, we see an important role for the second route because it enables more raw materials to be recovered. What is also important is for us to become less dependent on countries like Russia, China and Congo where raw materials currently come from - which is another reason why recycling is so important."

TU Delft profile of Shoshan Abrahami. Earlier she spoke about battery recycling with de Volkskrant among others.

David Peck - associate professor at the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment who specialises in critical materials and circular product design

Making your house more sustainable with solar panels, an economy that runs on green hydrogen, solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and digital technologies: none of this is possible without critical materials such as lithium, cobalt or nickel, often originating from countries that often do not meet the minimum standard of the rule of law. Geopolitical developments can put the supply of these at risk and with it, efforts to become both more economically and more technologically independent, warns researcher David Peck.

Only with its own advanced technology can Europe remain prosperous, independent and well-protected against external threats. At the same time, that technology is needed for the energy transition, digitisation and for ensuring our security. That is why the European Commission is investing billions - in batteries and hydrogen, for example.

Recycling is also essential, says Peck. "Ultimately, we need to reuse everything." Another subject Peck is doing a lot of research on is remanufacturing which involves taking used products and using them to make new ones. It goes one step further than so-called refurbished products that you can already buy now. "Remanufactured phones will be displayed alongside brand-new phones in shops. But you won’t be able to tell them apart." With remanufacturing, you are actually buying time. "It doesn’t solve the crisis regarding critical materials but by reusing materials, it will give us more time to come up with solutions."

More information: Read the full interview with David Peck that recently appeared on TU Delft Pioneering Tech, the online platform for disrupters & decision makers, here.