Strategic Acquisitions and Partnerships to Develop Next Generation of Lithium Battery Technology

Article in Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International, October 2018

Strategic acquisitions and partnerships are on the agenda for one supplier as it works to develop the next generation of lithium battery technology

Dutch energy management company Lithium Werks has acquired Super B, formerly one of its closest partners. Lithium Werks is also planning a joint R&D venture with the University of Twente in the Netherlands. These initiatives are part of the company’s plan to expand quickly.

The worldwide total energy demand for electricity is expected to more than double to 45% by 2050. By this time, around 80% of energy produced will come from renewable sources such as solar and wind, according to certification company DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook 2018, which was released on September 10.

In spite of this “positive outlook on the expansion of renewable energy, the predicted energy transition will not be fast enough”, according to Bjørn Kjærand Haugland, DNV GL’s chief sustainability officer.

Lithium Werks’ chairman Kees Koolen agrees, and he is keen to change this. “As renewable energy sources such as wind and sun often produce the most energy at times when the demand is low, we will need smart energy storage and transportation solutions that ensure energy is available at the right time and place,” he says. “So we’ll need to produce many more batteries and we’ll need
to do it fast.”

Ambitious plans

Lithium Werks new campus 10In order to do so, Lithium Werks has joined forces with fellow lithium battery developer, Super B, and plans to build a major clean energy R&D campus at Twente Airport near Enschede in the Netherlands.

“Over the next five years, we will recruit around 2,000 people to develop clean energy technologies at the campus,” explains Koolen.

They will work in close collaboration with experts at the University of Twente, a pioneer in research in the field of new materials, AI and control electronics. Koolen foresees that the partnership will deepen as they work to develop the next generation of batteries.

Lithium Werks’ ambitions are not limited to R&D though. The company, which has factories in China and the Netherlands, is preparing to construct a series of battery gigafactories on every continent, in response to what it expects to be an almost insatiable demand for batteries.

Best known for its nanophosphate cells and its smart lithium-ion modules, Lithium Werks has over 400 patents for lithium technology, so already possesses a great deal of technical know-how.

This is largely thanks to two important acquisitions that took place earlier this year. First, Lithium Werks acquired the assets of Valence Technology (formerly) followed by the industrial business of A123 Systems.

And with further deals expected in the coming months and years, the company is also becoming a leading employer in the industry. Its current 550-strong workforce could well top 1,000 within the next year.

Safer chemistry

Lithium Werks anticipates a huge growth in the demand for batteries for autonomous vehicles. Here, the company is employing artificial intelligence technology. Autonomous
EVs will in effect be mobile batteries that deliver vehicle-to-grid or vehicle-to-home power. This is where the company’s current lithium iron phosphate batteries (LFP) enter
the equation.

These batteries contain power cells that are based on technology originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The batteries use phosphate (LiFePO4) as
a cathode material and a graphitic carbon electrode with a metallic current collector grid as the anode. The end result is a cobalt-free low-toxicity, low-cost battery that offers high performance and long-term stability. This technology is structurally different from other iron phosphates, enabling much higher rate capability, higher power, improved safety, and a longer life.

All Lithium Werks products are equipped with a battery management system, which provides another level of safety. “Our solution is markedly safer than more volatile lithium chemistries that often rely on electronics or mechanical enclosures to safeguard against the extremes of thermal runaway,” says T Joseph Fisher III, CEOand co-founder of Lithium Werks. “Lithium Werks modules do not require such additional safeguards.”

This was confirmed this summer when Lithium Werks’ U27-U24 module and battery management system was granted type approval by DNV GL, after passing several new rigorous tests that included thermal propagation tests.

Mobility as a service

LFP batteries may offer the most appropriate solution for self-driving EVs in mega cities as they can be charged and discharged repeatedly without suffering a great degree of deterioration.
Moreover, charging and discharging can be a very quick process, and they can be repeatedly topped-up during the day without suffering any damage.

This also makes LFP batteries popular with maritime customers. Many canal boat owners in Amsterdam are currently in the process of replacing their diesel engines with electric
motors in preparation for the city’s switch to zero-emission shipping.

Concludes Koolen, “The world is currently undergoing a transition in which eventually we will see mobility as a service. And in this world, we’ll need batteries that deliver power rather than energy.”