Lithium-Ion Batteries At The Heart Of Electrifying Everything Else

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the go-to for many applications in the electric vehicle market. It’s a remarkable fact, considering the limitations of the original lithium battery, including an unstable nature, leading to the introduction of non-metallic lithium ions to the configuration. The slightly lower energy density as a result was a small price to pay for increased safety, as lithium-ion batteries now power thousands of different applications in numerous industries.

Li-ion batteries, as they are known, come in many chemical configurations, although there are six major types. Naturally, each has advantages and disadvantages, though combining chemistries to boost overall battery performance is a common practice to create better solutions, while research and development are continuously exploring new advancements.

What lithium-ion batteries offer industry

The six main types of li-ion batteries have many common characteristics, one of which is their relative ease of maintenance compared to non-lithium chemistries. Self-discharge for certain battery chemistries is less than half of the previously dominant nickel-cadmium, and li-ion batteries are much easier to dispose of, increasing their popularity in the EV world.

The high energy density these batteries offer increases range for moving vehicles and provides longer operating times for static machinery. Their fast-charging capability and low degradation under repeat charging make for less time spent at charging stations and can endure more battery cycles, saving on replacement costs.

This longevity is an equally important feature; if well taken care of, the batteries can even outlast the products they are placed in. Should this happen, they can then be rehoused into new applications and products for reuse, reducing the need for new batteries and more mining. Lithium-ion batteries are also remarkably robust, performing far better than their lead-acid counterparts in harsh weather conditions.

Lithium-ion battery cells (21700).

And if there are limitations to the battery chemistry, these can be mitigated by combining different chemistries. For example, the LMO chemistry scores low in performance and lifespan metrics. However, matching it with the NMC configuration inside an electric vehicle provides high current upon acceleration (LMC) and extended driving range and longevity (NMC).

Innovation driving safety and performance

The need for safe batteries that deliver reliable power over extended periods led to unprecedented innovation, and there are no signs of it stopping any time soon. The off-highway electric vehicle (OHEV) market has different requirements, as applications can vary from small excavators and forklifts to 60-ton trucks. Therefore, innovation needs to extend beyond battery chemistry alone, since each application has different power and energy requirements.

In Xerotech’s case, vertical integration means innovation can take place at all stages of the process, as there’s more direct control over operations. Everything from toolmaking and injection moulding right down to the last bolt securing the pack takes place in house. The modules within the pack are scalable, satisfying the market’s need for a battery system that’s flexible and configurable, and adaptable to the different needs of each application.

What is also interesting is that across the OHEV industry, safety has developed in such a way to protect the battery, the machine operator, and people in the vicinity, but also complements functionality and performance. It’s no mean feat, and in the next section we’ll take a closer look at some of the standard-setting innovations powering the OHEV market.

Sample Hibernium® battery pack application range.

Safety & functionality

Thermal runaway, a common concern for li-ion battery users, is a process where the battery’s temperature increases beyond what is dissipating. This causes further heat and, if unchecked, could cause extensive damage to the battery and, in some cases, even fire.

To combat this, companies like Xerotech take a multi-faceted approach. For us, structural casing, small energy units, current interrupt, and positive temperature coefficient devices protect the battery at the cell level. Module safety comprises individual cell fusing, mechanical disconnect in the event of a crash or severe impact, fire suppression, passive propagation resistance, and active thermal management. The latter three are particularly important in thermal runaway events.

In Hibernium® battery packs, each cell is covered in fire-retardant foam to insulate one from the other, preventing multiple failures should one or more cells suffer thermal runaway. The patented Xerotherm® liquid thermal management system keeps cells within safe operating limits while extending battery life and improving performance. In this system, the fire suppression technology is an always-on, quick-acting system that doesn’t need an active monitoring system to trigger it. This allows it to extinguish the fire immediately, suppressing battery cell thermal events in seconds.

The cases housing the modules on the pack level are shock and vibration resistant, have one of the highest possible ingress protection ratings (IP6K7K), and have crash-detection functions. Other safety aspects at this level include isolation and high voltage interlock monitoring, protection for over-current and over and under-voltage, and a manual service disconnect.

Power, performance, and energy

On-highway vehicles have electrified quicker than OHEV because their objectives are similar; they carry people rather than goods and need to efficiently get from point A to B. Therefore, battery sizes and specs don’t vary too much because the vehicle weight and profile are similar, meaning research and development costs are paid off across the thousands or millions of vehicles sold.

In the OHEV world, these numbers are rarely seen, if ever. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have their products split into different families and only make a couple of thousands of each, and they all run different profiles and duty cycles. For example, a small loader and a small digger have similar weight profiles, but their functions differ. Therefore, designing a battery from scratch for each application is hardly worth considering, as the return on investment will never be reached.

Retrospectively fitting a battery designed for another application is one option, but you would need to search far and wide for a battery that fits the application in size, weight, and performance. Even then, the manufacturer would need to reconfigure the battery management system to ensure the pack’s functionality matches what the application needs. While it’s certainly a good way of reusing battery packs, it could prove to be a lengthy process.

One solution to this problem is to provide a configurable solution that can be scaled up or down as needed, such as Xerotech’s Hibernium® technology. Thousands of configurations are available, saving the time and cost of developing a bespoke battery by stacking battery modules in series or parallel to deliver increased power if needed.

This modular platform makes for high flexibility in power requirements, charge cycles, energy content, operating voltage range, and battery cell chemistry. It’s an ideal setup for prototypes or OHEV product lines ready to become electrified.

Sample range of Hibernium® battery packs.

Worth the investment

The relatively high initial investment of switching to electric power is quickly offset by both short and long-term benefits. For starters, EVs have fewer moving parts, minimizing the risk of something going wrong, saving on repair costs and slowing down productivity should the machine spend time out of action.

Furthermore, li-ion batteries deliver power immediately, reliably, and safely. This means increased power is achieved at lower speeds, reducing battery drain, and compares favourably to the high fuel consumption needed for diesel engines to achieve similar power levels. They also compare favourably to other electric battery types, such as sodium, which have less energy storage capacity.

High diesel fuel consumption comparison.

The silence and lack of exhaust fumes produced by EVs also make for a healthier environment. Suppose the application in question is an excavator in a city. Employees benefit from a healthier working space, while residents and passers-by are not doused in engine noise and exhaust. In a mining context, there’s massive heat reduction while in use, and the lack of exhaust means companies can save on expensive ventilation systems. In both scenarios, there are far less vibrations for users to contend with too, and the lack of noise makes it easier for workplace communication.

Li-ion batteries are fast becoming the go-to technology for several industries, with significant rapid developments, so adopting them today means you’re well-placed for the advancements of tomorrow. Automation and remote-controlled operation will become critical in many business operations and are easier to implement in a fully electric machine. These features save costs and reduce the potential danger for employees, who instead can perform more high-value tasks, maximising workforce potential and future-proofing operations.

Evidence of this can already be found in the marine shipping and agricultural industries. In Norway, the Yara Birkeland became the world’s first fully electric, autonomous container vessel in April of 2022. Running a regional delivery route by sea, this application replaces 40,000 diesel engine truck road journeys per year, carrying an equivalent of approximately 100 containers each trip.

These examples are just the beginning of what lithium-ion battery technology can offer. As more industries electrify their vehicles, vessels and operations, the capacity to innovate increases, leading to more advanced solutions across different markets.

How Xerotech will help you reach your electrification goals

Whether you’re electrifying a prototype, a single vehicle, or an entire fleet, no task is too complex or low volume for us to apply our Hibernium® technology to. We pride ourselves on being side-by-side with our customers for every step of their electrification journey.

Xerotech is at the heart of powering a new industrial revolution, so get in touch with our team today to find out how you too can power the change.

About Xerotech

Xerotech is an award-winning battery technology company solving one of our generation’s most significant challenges, industrial electrification.

Driven by a shared vision of a fully electric future, our talented team is making an impact on a global scale as Xerotech provides the first truly credible path to zero emissions and enables the electrification of machines that were previously too low-volume to be economically electrified.

Our Hibernium® battery pack platform adapts to the bespoke needs of your vehicle or application. With Hibernium®, you can choose your desired or preferred energy content, operating voltage range, physical dimensions, and even battery cell chemistry.

There are no design or engineering costs, even for one-off prototyping projects making this solution one of the only viable options for low-volume, high-diversity projects.

The electrification of heavy-duty machinery is now available to every OEM and Integrator.

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