Australian technology that promises to extend the life of electric vehicle batteries – as well as make them serviceable and, ultimately, recyclable – has been awarded just under $300,000 by the federal government, to accelerate its commercialisation process.
The battery casing technology, developed by Brisbane-based company Vaulta, uses a blend of graphene, polymer and other composites to deliver significant improvements in weight, strength, and thermal and electrical conductivity of lithium-ion batteries.
Vaulta founder and director Dominic Spooner says his team believes the casing can extend the life of the li-ion batteries, both through design and performance.
“The polymer casing takes heat away from the cells… it’s electrically insular, and four to five times more conductive than regular plastic – and we think we can get that to around 10 times,” Spooner told The Driven.
“That’s really important for batteries because it leads to a longer life.”
Spooner, whose background is in design, said his exposure to electric vehicles started in around 2016, when he was working for a company in Australia on EV battery designs for overseas products.
It quickly dawned on him just how difficult it was to design a battery and to get one to market, particularly in Australia.
This provided inspiration to build a battery around simple expandable design. But Spooner says the biggest “penny-drop” was around battery recycling.
“We knew that batteries were difficult to pull apart, if something goes wrong. All the cells are basically entombed. Once they’re in there, they’re not meant to come out. We thought, let’s reverse that and make it something we can disassemble.”
Spooner says that recycling for li-ion batteries is nowhere near where it needs to be at a time when electric vehicles and stationary storage are rapidly emerging as two of the pillars of a renewable powered and electrified world.
He said that while there were environmental specs in a lot of the battery manufacture tenders being issued, not many of them were actually being met.
If the requirements around decommissioning a battery became a deal breaker in a lot of those projects, then most of them batteries wouldn’t exist, they just wouldn’t be installed,” Spooner told The Driven.
“We’re very quick to say, in 10 years when this battery is decommissioned, technology will exist to recycle this battery. But that’s a risky move, and potentially a huge landfill issue. …If those batteries aren’t recycled, we’re talking about hundreds of kilograms, per vehicle, of landfill.
“Being able to go into a module means you can replace the cells that are bringing the battery down – if there’s a voltage issue in some cells, then it affects the performance of the whole battery.
“If you can change over a problematic bank of cells, you may be able to extend the life of that battery significantly.”
At this stage, Vaulta is testing its battery casings on smaller-scale lithium-ion batteries used as lead-acid replacements in performance vehicles, through a memorandum of understanding with a company in Canada, called Braille Energy Systems.
“Lead-acid replacement is a good place to start for our technology, because the turnover of lead acid is much higher and it makes sense to swap to battery that lasts longer, provided they are just as recyclable at the end of their life,” Spooner said.
“Performance vehicles are also a good testing ground,” he added, noting that the technology is being used in some of the fastest cars in the world, including NASCAR, IndyCar, and Aussie V8 Supercars.
“If the battery can pass those tests – including high speeds and high impact collisions – then it can be adapted to almost every other vehicle.”
Spooner said the federal government grant – $297,500 from the Accelerating Commercialisation grants program – will help the company, greatly, to fund its development and get ready for electric cars.
“There’s electric cars that don’t exist yet that we think could exist because of this technology,” he said.