NTU team makes battery breakthrough

The future mobility lab set up by NTU and German carmaker BMW will get a BMW i8 (above), a plug-in hybrid sports car, and a BMW i3, a full-electric hatchback, as research platforms.
The future mobility lab set up by NTU and German carmaker BMW will get a BMW i8 (above), a plug-in hybrid sports car, and a BMW i3, a full-electric hatchback, as research platforms.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

RESEARCHERS at a future mobility lab set up by German carmaker BMW and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) two years ago have managed to double the range of electric vehicle batteries.

But it will be at least five years before the improved batteries can be be commercialised, NTU said.

Associate professor Madhavi Srinivasan of NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering said the team made the breakthrough by substituting certain materials in the batteries with new minerals.

"We are quite confident that this doubles the range of the batteries, and we are working now to improve their longevity," she said.

Electric cars in Singapore have a realistic range of about 100-120km before they have to be recharged. Doubling this range will allow the cars to be driven longer - perhaps even to nearby Malaysian cities such as Malacca.

Prof Srinivasan said the team had also replaced "toxic and expensive" cobalt in the batteries with "environmentally benign elements".

Yesterday, BMW and NTU announced that the lab will receive a further $1.3 million in funding - on top of the $5.5 million committed at the start of the programme.

The sum includes the supply of a BMW i3 (a full-electric hatchback) and an i8 (a plug-in hybrid sports car) as research platforms to allow researchers to conduct "real-life driver behaviour and to collect in-depth data on vehicle performance".

The cars, on loan until the research programme winds up in mid-2017, are tax-exempt. This makes the i8 - which retails at about $600,000 - possibly the costliest car here to be exempt from registration fees and COE.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of Energy Research Institute @ NTU, said the cars will allow researchers to study how driver monitoring and assistance systems work with different seating positions.

Besides new battery materials, and driver enhancement systems, the lab has also been studying intelligent mobility.

Yesterday, BMW and NTU announced that two more topics will be added: electromobility in Asia and smart materials.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, the guest of honour at a ceremony to mark the programme expansion, said: "I am pleased to note that the lab now has more than 30 engineers, scientists and PhD students from BMW and NTU and this partnership will continue for another two years."

christan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'NTU team makes battery breakthrough'. Print Edition | Subscribe