3D printed batteries and ultra-fast charging technology key to achieving low-carbon future

30/06/2020

As part of our recently announced £1 million investment, we identified seven micro, small and medium sized UK-based businesses working on advancements in energy storage and management which it believes may help the UK reach its net-zero carbon targets.

The funding comes as part of our Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) and will support a number of projects including the development of a high power battery technology at the University of Cambridge, a disruptive new process for the mass production of electric vehicle batteries using 3D printing and a new multi-chemistry battery concept that will improve electric vehicle performance, while reducing production costs.

Improvements in the efficiency of energy storage and management is key to achieving a net-zero carbon future; according to Professor Dave Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems, at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), ‘Batteries will need to halve in cost and double in energy density in the next two decades’. If this is to be achieved, the automotive industry needs technological advancement in, not just new chemistries and high-volume manufacturing, but also battery pack design and materials and improvements to cooling and battery management system technologies. It’s well known that early-adopted EVs had issues with energy density and therefore range, so innovation in the efficient usage and management of the energy available on a vehicle is critical to realising improved usability.

Josh Denne, APC – TDAP Manager says: ‘Energy storage and management is one of the most important technology challenges of the 21st century, so it comes as no surprise that we are seeing huge innovation in this area. The seven organisations in this latest wave of TDAP funding are a great mix of start-ups, university spin-outs and more established SMEs. I think they have a great opportunity to revolutionise the development of the next generation of electric vehicles through the development of products that impact customer pain-points.’

The seven projects are:

Agile Charging

The prospect of electrifying a fleet of vehicles is exciting for many companies looking to improve their carbon footprint. However, in reality achieving this goal is often fraught with challenges. For many organisations, the cost of installing enough charging points at a single depot is a non-starter, their depot may be on a short lease or they may have multiple depots.  Even if these obstacles are overcome, often their connection to the local grid struggles to cope with the additional demand and district network operators can charge tens of thousands of pounds and take several months to deliver the additional capacity required. It was these challenges that inspired the team at Agile Charging to develop a transportable EV fast-charging solution. David Kaye, Commercial Director at Agile Charging explains: ‘We noticed a gap in the market for a charging solution that was easily transportable between sites; through TDAP we hope to devise a trailer-mounted fast-charging unit which can be used for organisations wishing to quickly test-drive a fleet of electric vehicles.’

Through TDAP, Agile Charging will be able to assess the market suitability for their innovation and understand the cost/benefit to their potential customers. David Kaye continues: ’The TDAP process is incredibly thorough, the funding will not only enable us to build a prototype, but through the expert delivery partners we will be able to move beyond our initial feasibility study and build a relationship with a wide network of mobility specialists.’

Balance Batteries

With over 20 years’ experience in F1, the team at Balance Batteries is taking its expertise in energy efficiency further with the development of a lightweight, low-cost method of forming battery module cooling systems. By addressing the need for high-performance cooling it hopes to be able to create a cost-effective, high power and energy battery that can be used in a passenger car.

As a fresh start-up, founded in January of this year, Balance Batteries is using the funding from TDAP to develop a demonstrator model that will act as the cornerstone from which they hope to develop their business.  Co-Founder, Doug Cross says: ‘For a new company like us, TDAP offers a unique blend of expertise that can’t be found elsewhere. As engineers, we are confident in the technical potential of our business, however, being able to get the commercial case validated and benefit from a network of potential customers is vital for our growth.’

CB2Tech

CB2tech is a spin-out of Cambridge University that builds on a fundamental breakthrough from Professor Clare Grey’s group in the department of Chemistry. The company is commercialising rapid charging battery technologies based on a new material that was discovered to have the fastest transport properties for lithium ions enabling an ultrafast charge of a Lithium Ion battery in a few minutes. The battery technology has been successfully scaled up using existing manufacturing processes. It offers extreme fast-charging while maintaining safety without degradation in the lifetime of a battery, which plagues other state-of-the-art fast-charging solutions.

CB2tech will be using its TDAP funding to build a demonstrator model showing how the technology can be used in an automotive application. Dr Sai Shivareddy, CEO at CB2tech says: ‘As a spin-out, getting on to TDAP is incredibly attractive. It is a fantastic programme that has helped us to refine our strategy for solving the problems that come with increased EV adoption. It has also introduced us to an extremely supportive community of innovators all driven by a shared vision to accelerate technology development for a low-carbon future.’

Cheesecake Energy LTD

Started in 2016 as a spin-out from the University of Nottingham, Cheesecake Energy Ltd is developing energy storage technology to support the charging of vehicles and allowing for deeper integration of renewable energy, such as solar, at a cheaper cost than lithium-ion alternatives. By lowering the cost of long-duration energy, their breakthrough system uses thermal energy storage and compressed air to achieve costs that are 30-40% lower than that of the cheapest currently available.

Thanks to the funding provided by TDAP, the team at Cheesecake will be developing a real-life pilot prototype, meaning they will be able to take the technology out of the laboratory and into a customer setting. This, they hope, will validate the technology for a fleet of electric vehicles and give them a greater understanding of its viability for the global market. Mike Simpson, Cheesecake CEO, explains ‘TDAP allows us to accelerate the commercialisation of our technology and support the roll-out of a pilot.  We are really excited to benefit from the network introductions and expertise that TDAP brings to fast-growing start-ups like ourselves.’

Photocentric 

In operation since 2002, Photocentric are patent holders in visible light-curing technologies and currently manufacture an innovative range of 3D printers driven by LCD screens. It is this expertise that guided Photocentric on how the use of additive manufacturing techniques could create a process that enables custom mass-manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries by 3D printing.

Through TDAP funding, Photocentric aims to produce a demonstrator prototype that uses additive manufacturing techniques, allowing a 3D electrode design. This process will iterate the electrode structure and optimise performance, enabling a fast and accurate fabrication process that enables custom mass-manufacturing of batteries. Dr Sarah Karmel, Head of R&D says: ‘Thanks to the expertise within the TDAP network, we hope to be able to demonstrate how our technology can be applied to the mass-production of batteries for the EV market.’

Spark EV Technology

Range anxiety has plagued the transition to EV since the first generation of vehicles hit the roads. However, between technological advancements and better energy management we are now starting to see the tide turn. By using live journey data for cars, buses, and trucks, the team at Spark EV Technology has developed a product that improves journey prediction accuracy and reduces range and charge-time anxiety for drivers.

Existing vehicles’ range predictors are non-specific and thus often inaccurate, with Spark EV your electric vehicle will take live data, based on current road and atmospheric conditions as well as how you drive your car, and apply machine-learning algorithms to not only predict your potential range, but also show where your most convenient charge-point might be. Tested, so far, for over 10,000 miles in a range of vehicles globally, Spark EV’s accuracy is within 1-2km against in-vehicle systems with errors of over 45km.

Justin Ott, CEO, explains: ‘By using live data and machine-learning algorithms on how much energy each individual driver uses, along with information from the vehicle and environment, we are able to make a much better prediction on range. Thanks to TDAP funding we hope to be able to develop our technology further and partner with an OEM to put a demonstrator prototype into a live vehicle application. TDAP not only offers us the opportunity to validate our technology with a team of experienced experts, but thanks to its network, it also opens doors to potential customers.’

Upgrade Technology Engineering 

With over 20 years’ experience in battery management, the team at Upgrade Technology Engineering are experts in finding innovative ways to improve battery efficiency. With TDAP funding they hope to develop a multi-chemistry battery concept that will improve the longevity of automotive battery packs and increase performance, whilst reducing production and servicing costs. By combining different cell technologies that are more efficient for operating in each mode they can create a battery able to both use the strengths of and mitigate the weakness of any single cell type.

‘The TDAP programme is a perfect fit for micro businesses like us’ says Chris Hale from Upgrade Technology, ‘The whole package means that right from the start we can focus on getting the best commercial application for our technology. There are always barriers to commercialisation for SMEs, but TDAP not only provides a foot in the door, but also a vast amount of expertise to ensure that our pitch is spot-on.’