In the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, batteries enable two critical functions: battery-powered vehicles and backup storage for the electric-power grid. Batteries are so important in fact, that researchers and developers are on the hunt for better batteries: ones that last longer, cost less, deliver more power per ounce and are safer. In addition, researchers are seeking less hazardous materials that can be mined more easily and sustainably.
Today, lithium-ion (Li-ion) are the best batteries for clean technology applications. Li-ion batteries, invented in the 1980s and available commercially beginning in 1991, have been used primarily to power mobile phones, laptop computers and other portable electronic devices. As concern about climate change grew, however, researchers began to use Li-ion batteries as a clean power source for electric cars, trucks and air transport, and as backup power for the electric grid to store electricity that can be used when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
Although Li-ion batteries currently are the best option for these uses, they are not ideal. To hold enough power to move an automobile or airplane requires massive numbers of Li-ion cells. All those cells come at a high cost, making electric vehicles more expensive than many consumers can afford. The cells also take up a lot of space, forcing vehicles to be larger and heavier just to hold them.
The batteries themselves add significant weight to a vehicle; moving that weight consumes battery energy that could be better spent moving passengers or freight. Lithium also is a rare-earth element and is difficult to mine; current processes require massive volumes of water, relieving one environmental challenge by worsening another.
Inventing a better battery
Battery research and development teams are hard at work on solving these issues. Some teams are researching how to produce Li-ion batteries that deliver more energy from less weight, a ratio known as “energy density.” Others are focused on identifying better battery materials than lithium – ones that could deliver higher energy densities at lower costs with fewer environmental tradeoffs.
Finding solutions is a huge challenge, and it is complicated by the fact that researchers have a hard deadline: 2050, the United Nations’ target for a world free of fossil fuels. Battery research and development alone can take many years, and finding alternative materials is just the beginning. Researchers then need to develop and perfect complex manufacturing techniques, logistics experts must develop the supply chains needed to deliver the new materials, and device-manufacturers must do the hard work to design products that make best use of the newer, better batteries.
What’s abundantly clear is that researchers don’t have time to make the next breakthrough with the same slow, laborious physical research, development and testing processes that gave the world Li-ion batteries. Is there an option that can tackle this challenge? Yes, there is: Scientifically accurate simulation technologies that deliver accurate results for better batteries in a fraction of the time required for physical testing. A nice plus: virtual experimentation doesn’t consume any of the precious materials needed to build the batteries. 3D multiscale modeling and simulations, combined with artificial intelligence, holds the solution.
Virtual R&D Domain Experts
Unfortunately, few battery researchers today have the virtual development and testing systems they need, or the deep experience required to use them. Not to worry, because they have a valuable ally: multidisciplinary consulting teams skilled in applying virtual research, development and testing processes to the challenges involved in the quest for better batteries.
Dassault Systèmes, for example, employs the world’s foremost experts in virtual R&D. To accomplish their vital research in record time, battery researchers and the companies that use batteries in complex products have turned to our Contract Research team for help with their most challenging better-battery projects.
The team includes experts from BIOVIA, the Dassault Systèmes brand that specializes in virtual modeling at the atomic and molecular levels, as well as data science and machine learning. This team has created Advanced Technology Capability (ATC) assets with BIOVIA software that includes validated models, scientific algorithms, database content and workflows specific for battery cell innovation and cell manufacturing. These ATCs allow us to create sophisticated multiscale, multi-paradigm Virtual Twin Experiences to design and optimize cells used in battery-powered medical devices, cell phones, EVs and eVTOLs.
Understandably, our methods for virtual battery cell R&D is highly confidential, but we can share high-level overview of some typical projects:
- Developing Battery Materials. A large OEM sought to develop new electrolyte materials for next-generation battery cells faster and more cost-effectively than possible with physical testing alone. With molecular level modeling and simulations, the Contract Research team developed validated 3D models of different electrolytes identified by the client, then simulated production runs to analyze the materials’ performance and safety features. Virtual screening quickly identified the most promising electrolyte formulation, reducing development time by 30%.
- Performing Molecular-Level Battery Tests. Physical testing couldn’t reveal the chemical reactions at work in an automotive OEM’s batteries – but virtual simulation could. The Contract Research team used molecular simulation to generate the data for product-level simulations. Comparing the simulation results to those obtained by physical testing proved the simulations’ accuracy, validating that the data could be used in future experiments, reducing the need for numerous physical tests. The result: a 40% increase in the OEM’s battery-innovation rate.
- Diagnosing Battery Performance Issues. When a vendor’s battery cells began to perform poorly, the OEM turned to the Dassault Systèmes Contract Research team for help in determining why. Using chemistry-based simulations, the team tested a number of possible causes in record time. After identifying the specific cause, the team developed a test that the cell vendor now performs on each batch of batteries, ensuring consistent performance while saving time and money.
- Analyzing Battery Failures. A personal electronics manufacturer experienced a high battery failure rate, and nothing it did to tweak the manufacturing process solved the problem. The Contract Research team came up with three hypotheses, then tested them in virtual twin models at the molecular and mesoscale levels. After identifying the cause of the problem, the team formulated a fix that lowered the company’s battery failure rate from 9% to just 1%.
- Securing Battery Warranties. To live up to its warranty promises, a device manufacturer needed accurate predictions of its batteries’ performance. Physical testing was too slow and expensive, so the manufacturer brought its battery-cell data to Dassault Systèmes. The Contract Research team developed models that accurately predict performance. Each new round of data further refines the models.
Accelerating battery research
In the push for more powerful, less expensive, safer batteries made of materials that can be mined more sustainably and recycled more easily, speed and affordability are vital. 3D modeling and simulation helps battery makers – and those who design and build the systems they power – achieve their goals in hours or days instead of the years required for physical testing. In the process, they also significantly reduce costs and minimize the waste of scarce and valuable materials.
Given the world’s pressing need for better batteries, the battery industry needs rapid, accurate results to accelerate the transition from physical R&D to virtual R&D. A more sustainable approach to R&D that saves time and money while accelerating the introduction of better battery technologies? That’s good news for people and for the planet.
Discover the capabilities of contract research for creating better batteries