Tuesday, May 28, 2024

DOST research center developing cheaper batteries for e-vehicles

The country is now eyeing at developing economical lead-acid batteries with optimal performance capacity as a better alternative energy storage to lithium-ion that can eventually be used for electric vehicles.

The Center for Advanced Batteries is one of the featured new R&D hubs under the Niche Centers for R&D in the Regions or NICER program that the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will put up with host universities to build strong R&D capabilities in the regions.

The virtual presser held last October 8 presented the various NICER programs that DOST is currently supporting.

DOST undersecretary for research and development Rowena Cristina L. Guevara said the NICERS will allow the country’s academic and R&D institutions to upgrade their research facilities, develop policies, transfer technologies and ramp-up regional initiatives and efforts towards a competitive innovation ecosystem.

“Through these R&D Centers, the DOST cultivates the innovation landscape in various sectors to ensure that no one is left behind in the R&D progress despite the setbacks brought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

During the virtual presser, Dr. Drandreb Earl Juanico, program leader of the Center for Advanced Batteries and Principal Researcher of CATALYST TechnoCoRe, Technological Institute of the Philippines, pointed out that the facility is now on its final stages of confirmatory laboratory results on the lead-acid battery improvements.

He revealed that by December this year, “we will do a pilot-scale test at the Philippine Batteries Inc.’s factory in Bulacan.” After this, by April next year, Juanico’s group is hoping to have the initial batch of market-ready prototypes.

The Niche Center for Advanced Batteries likewise eyes to bridge the Renewable Energy (RE) infrastructure and wide-scale adoption to achieve sustainability energy initiatives for the country.

However, despite the purported positive environmental effects of using renewables in the country’s energy mix, the high capital cost especially on installation and energy storage and energy inefficiency were perceived to be stumbling blocks to its complete roll-out.  

Juanico, however, dispelled this by saying that if their study succeeds in prolonging the cycle life of the lead-acid battery by at least 25 percent, “its life cycle cost will be below that of lithium-ion batteries even if the price of these batteries declines by 8 percent annually (assuming the likes of Tesla and other lithium-ion battery manufacturers achieve economies of scale) from the year 2025 up to 2040.”

He estimated that the main contributor to this advantage is the lead-acid batteries’ high level of recyclability compared to lithium-ion batteries.

There are also future plans to develop electric vehicles running on lead-acid batteries through the eMobility NICER. The country manufactures lead-acid batteries and this will be used for the locally developed electric vehicles, ranging from tricycles, jeepneys, and other modes of transport.

“Localizing the advanced technologies that support lead-acid batteries will make our electric transport sector less dependent on imported lithium-ion batteries,” Juanico said.

Looking beyond possibilities, Juanico added that his team is eyeing to innovate the mature battery technology in consideration of its manufacturability. But they are also looking at reviving the nickel-iron battery using nanoscience and materials science.

They hope to add value to the nickel and iron ores extracted in the country through the improved lead-acid battery technology. He shared that the country is a leading nickel producer with well-established mines in Mindanao with an annual average production of 300,000 metric tons since 2010.

“In addition, the northern coast of Luzon has abundant offshore reserves of iron-ore sands at around 600 million metric tons,” said Juanico.

Similarly, the center will look into new materials to develop components for future, portable battery products.

NICER is one of the various R&D programs under the Science for Change Program of DOST that was created to capacitate higher education institutions (HEIs) in the regions to make significant improvement in regional research by integrating its development needs with the existing R&D capabilities and resources. It also provides institutional grants for HEIs in the regions for R&D capacity-building to further improve their S&T infrastructure.

In total, there are currently 10 centers under the NICER program, nine of which are the following: Center for Environmental Technologies and Compliance, Coastal Engineering Research (CoastER) Center, Smart Water Infrastructure and Management (SWIM) R&D Center, Center for Lakes Sustainable Development, Center for Sustainable Polymers R&D, Center for Vector of Diseases of Public Health, Integrated Protein Research and Development Center, Biomaterials for Diagnostics and Therapeutics Research and Development Center, and NeuRoTech.

Incidentally, the different NICER programs and projects were bannered last month at the virtual launch of the Big 21 in 2021 event of the DOST and these other R&D projects under the Science for Change Program and other innovations will also be showcased in the virtual celebration of the 2021 National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) to be held from 22-28 November 2021. — Joy M. Lazcano (DOST-STII)

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