Lifting the lid: A unique opportunity to glimpse inside electric and hybrid vehicle batteries – 23/12/2020

Battery researchers have traditionally had to rely on computer models if they wanted to observe the flow of current within a cell. These vary in accuracy, and any errors in the simulation can be carried through to the cell design, affecting its real-world performance. So, what if you could see inside the cell and directly visualise the flow of current?  

That was the opportunity identified by Sussex-based CDO2. Originally founded as a software company, the business changed tack in 2017 and began developing a system to capture the flow of current using quantum sensing.  

“We could see a real need for researchers to look into the battery with a non-invasive technology,” comments CDO2 Director Gary Kendall. “We discovered that by using sensitive magnetic field measurement we could see that current flow.” 

The company began developing the technology and successfully demonstrated it under laboratory conditions in collaboration with the University of Sussex. However, this required bulky and highly specialised equipment that wasn’t suitable for a normal R&D environment. Kendall and his colleagues turned to the APC’s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) to take the concept to the next step. 

“We had the technology, but we were really struggling with how to commercialise it,” he recalls. We needed a way to turn that into a sustainable business model.” 

CDO2 was awarded over £100,000 of grant funding through the TDAP scheme and given access to specialist support and advice from automotive industry experts. As with all TDAP projects, the funding was provided without the company having to forfeit any equity or give away any intellectual property. 

 

The strategic planning exercises undertaken as part of the programme helped the company to better understand the market for its technology, and also served to prevent a few potential pitfalls, Kendall explains: “One of the things we’ve really appreciated about TDAP, as opposed to other funding schemes we’ve been involved with, is the flexibility. We soon realised that we’d been quite naïve in our approach with some of the electronics, so we recruited an electronics engineer who’s been doing a lot of the commercialisation work. The flexibility to bring in someone for that was really valuable.” 

With the support from the TDAP programme, CDO2 has been able to successfully develop the technology to the point where a production-ready unit is now being used for active testing with a technical partner.  A commercially-available product is expected to follow in the second quarter of 2021. This will give engineers an unprecedented opportunity to glimpse the inner workings of lithium ion cells, helping them to refine the next generation of electric and hybrid vehicle batteries. 

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