“Sustainability Drives Us”

Interview with Prof. Dr Egbert Figgemeier from Helmholtz Institute Münster (HI MS; IEK-12) of Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University on the occasion of Battery Day on 18 February 2024.

„Nachhaltigkeit treibt uns an“

18 February 2024 – Prof. Dr Egbert Figgemeier from Helmholtz Institute Münster (HI MS; IEK-12) of Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University conducts research at his chair on ageing and lifetime of battery cells. On the occasion of Battery Day on 18 February 2023 he talks about current challenges in his research and how sustainability shapes his work.

What area of battery research are you involved in?

Egbert Figgemeier: I conduct research in the ageing and lifetime of battery cells. My group and I are also working on new materials and new processes for lithium-ion batteries (LIB) as well as alternative battery systems.

What have been the most important milestones in your work in recent years?

Egbert Figgemeier: It's a continuous process. We recently commissioned a pilot plant for the continuous processing of electrodes in the laboratory. The electrodes are electrochemically lithiated here on an industrial scale. This means that lithium is already deposited on the anode during the manufacturing process. This corresponds to an initial charging process. We no longer work with small pieces, as was previously the case in the laboratory, but with large rolls of electrode material up to 30 cm wide. With the help of the system, we can extend the lifetime and increase the energy density of the battery cell in a continuous research process. This is necessary on the way to market maturity. Unfortunately, people often underestimate how long it takes to go from laboratory scale to industrial scale. It can take ten years from invention to innovation to product.

What are the goals to be achieved in the next step?

Egbert Figgemeier: To produce industrial-grade cells with the pre-lithiated electrodes. We are currently planning to deliver the finished electrodes to cooperation partners in Münster, where our colleagues will then use their equipment to process them into finished cells on an industrial scale.

What are currently the biggest challenges in developing the cells?

Egbert Figgemeier: There are always many small problems to solve when it comes to scaling, both in the cell and in the process chain. For example, the treated electrodes can be much more reactive than the untreated electrodes because they are already charged and therefore energised. In addition, the electrodes have to be transported from our HI MS site in Aachen to Münster. As they are sensitive to moisture, they have to be packed and transported in a dry room atmosphere. And every electrode material that we receive as raw material behaves slightly differently chemically, depending on the manufacturer. This means that as soon as we are supplied by a different manufacturer, the processes have to be adapted. We often have ideas as to what the underlying causes might be so that we can address them specifically, but the work is also based a lot on trial and error. And a deep scientific understanding is necessary for troubleshooting.

What role does sustainability play in your research?

Egbert Figgemeier: Sustainability drives us, it has become a core aspect. Of course, this is politically and socially desired. Sustainability is the driver for new materials that are more readily available in Europe than conventional ones, for example, and the driver for the development of batteries that can be produced using less energy and have a longer lifetime.

Which battery system from your research do you currently consider to be particularly promising?

Egbert Figgemeier: In my opinion, the lithium-ion battery will remain the predominant system for the next 30 years, as it is particularly energy-dense and long-lasting. I think sodium-ion batteries are very promising for the future, as sodium is obtained from salt and is therefore particularly readily available, cheap and has a low environmental impact. At the moment, however, we are still making compromises in terms of energy density and lifetime.

Thank you very much!

Current publications of Helmholtz Institute Münster on the lifetime and ageing of battery cells:

ACS Appl. Energy Mater. 2023, 6, 6, 3413-3421, DOI: 10.1021/acsaem.2c04128

Nature Communications 2021, 12, 5459, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25334-8

ChemSusChem 2019, 12, 12, 2515-2539, DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201900209

Last Modified: 19.02.2024