Located in the West of Germany, Münster Electrochemical Energy Technology (MEET) is the battery research center of the University of Münster. MEET employs 150 scientists from all over the world, who are pursuing the common goal to improve electrochemical energy storage technologies in terms of energy density, durability and safety. The Research Center strives to develop advanced lithium-ion and alternative batteries both for the use in e-mobility and stationary storage systems. ees International interviewed Managing Director Dr. Falko Schappacher about the current state of research and the latest achievements.
ees International: What seems the most promising non-lithium-ion-based battery technology at MEET Battery Research Center at the moment? What makes the technology special?
Various non-lithium-ion-based battery technologies are still under investigation in different research projects. Specifically, metal anodes (lithium and other metals) in combination with all kinds of electrolytes constitute a most interesting research field where we pursue several advanced developments, as the use of metal anodes promises high energy densities. Furthermore, we are still further developing and optimizing our in-house developed dual ion batteries, which is a novel high voltage cell technology that uses no heavy metals at all and is finding interest for stationary energy storage.
ees International: Could you name some of the main research milestones that were reached during the last year?
One of the main achievements in 2017 was the setup of our high throughput screening (HTS) system for electrolytes within the project “4E” funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This HTS-System allows us to formulate and analyse 96 different electrolyte mixtures in just one day. After a fully automated initial characterization, suitable formulations are selected and then a robot assembles different cell types with these electrolytes for further testing. This is a great leap forward in electrolyte research capabilities.
We also made significant improvements in increasing the energy density by realising ultra-thick electrodes. They do not only show a significantly improved active material to inactive material ratio, but at the same time still application relevant C-rates for charge and discharge. There are many more innovative findings; just to mention our multiple inventions with regard to additive stabilized electrolyte solutions improving cycling stability and low temperature performance of lithium-ion batteries as well as improvements in the field of lithium metal anodes and their surface protection.
Please check the publications on our website to learn more about promising findings and developments at MEET.
ees International: The laboratories of MEET are organized modularly. What does this mean exactly? What are the individual divisions of the Research Center and how can we imagine the different parts working together in order to make batteries better?
At MEET, designing, developing and improving the battery cell and its constituents takes place all along the whole process chain and involves among others these process steps: Synthesis of active and inactive materials (for example high performance electrolytes and electrode materials or intrinsically safe materials), development of material formulations for high power and/or high energy application, electrolyte formulation and electrode production, cell assembly, optimization of formation strategies, improvement of aging behaviour and identification of aging mechanisms, development and execution of safety tests to determine hazard-triggering reactions and to measure heat development as well as to define safety-improving countermeasures.
In short, there are numerous fields to improve the overall performance of batteries. For each approach, you need appropriate equipment, infrastructure and skilled personnel, which is realized through the modular organization of the Research Center, with labs dedicated to the individual process steps and the scientific and technological disciplines behind them. In simple words, each module can be considered as a “competence cluster”. Through intensive communication and collaboration between the cluster and under the umbrella of the Research Center an integrated and holistic research approach over the process chain is fostered.
Accordingly, our team is structured into divisions. In the “Cell System” team, electrochemical energy storage cells are analysed and improved in their design, performance, aging behaviour and safety. The division “Analytics & Environment” applies high-resolution analytical methods to characterize battery cell components with the aim to understand the decomposition of electrolytes, the degradation of electrodes and their surfaces, to reveal potential toxicities and to develop processes to re-use batteries in a second-life or regaining components by recycling. The cell materials, their combination and their harmonization with future material and cell concepts are pursued in the division “Selected Materials”. MEET also hosts three “Joint Groups” that complement our holistic research approach.
The divisions and Joint Groups work together. If, for example, the division “Cell System” investigates the aging and safety behaviour of lithium-ion batteries, an important task is to understand the underlying mechanisms, where the division “Analytics and Environment” can bring in its competencies.
ees International: MEET activities are mainly financed through funded research projects supported by the German Ministries. Does this constitute a secure basis for your research work? How would you assess Germany’s position in the global battery research and development?
All public research entities at German universities and research institutions rely to some extent on government funding; MEET is no exception. Public sponsors, such as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Federal Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia, the DFG, the EU and others trust in our capabilities and support us financially and with advice to realize our research projects. There is, in addition, substantial support from our industrial partners in Germany, Europe and world-wide. Finally, the University of Münster provides a base-funding, thus recognizing our highly visible manifold activities in teaching and research that are an essential part of the university’s teaching and research programs in the energy field. Being affiliated to the University of Münster is key and facilitator for many projects within the university and beyond.
We are very delighted to see that the German government and a significant part of the industry recognises battery research as a fundamentally important investment field to secure Germany`s role in this system-relevant technology field. The developments in the automotive market are a good example, please let me share some views on the situation in Germany: The value chain of an electric vehicle is continuously changed and shaped by vertical integration, meaning that the number of suppliers that contribute to the complete electric car diminishes continuously. Thus, the German automotive and supplier industry is facing challenging times to maintain their superior roles in the automotive market in particular, when they cannot cover or at least control the complete value chain of an electric car and in particular still depend on importing battery cells in the future. Fostering battery research is one essential step to strengthen Germany’s role in the battery field. A further important step will be that the automotive and supplier industry is bringing itself into a favorable and sustainable position in view of the worldwide developments and changes throughout the value chain.
ees International: MEET will be one of the exhibitors on this year’s ees Europe, taking place from 20-22 June in Munich, Germany, in the frame of The Smarter E Europe. What benefits do you expect from your exhibition appearance?
We are exhibiting to deepen and expand our professional network. The success of MEET has been to a significant degree made possible through long-term, trustful cooperation with partners and sponsors. We are running 40 projects at MEET, which aim to improve present and future electrochemical energy storage systems; in most of them, we work closely together with partners from academia and industry. When developing high-performance battery cells we bring in our strength, for example, the development of new materials, components and cells with system relevance. Our laboratories contain top standard equipment and our staff members are experienced and engaged researchers and engineers. Nevertheless, battery research is not the field to “play” alone: A good battery cell always needs a reliable system integration. And how could we improve battery cell performance, when we do not know the demands of industry partners and users?
We experienced the ees exhibition and conference as a great platform to get together with partners, to share and expand our knowledge or just to exchange new ideas. We also aim to give an insight in how we tailor design battery materials and cells and inspire young researchers with our passion for batteries.
We are convinced that successful projects base on a fair, trustful and reliable cooperation. The personal contact and active exchange with our network are vital for achieving this success.
Dr. Falko Schappacher, Managing Director, MEET
Xenia Zoller, Assistant Editor, ees International