LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY – Chemical giant BASF announced plans to invest a three-digit million euro sum in researching, developing and producing electric vehicle battery materials over the next five years. The investment will include construction of a production plant for advanced cathode materials in Elyria, Ohio. 

BASF lab technician Christian Saffert tests various lithium-ion batteries.

BASF lab technician Christian Saffert tests various lithium-ion batteries.

This new facility, requiring an investment of more than $50 million, is expected to supply the market with cathode materials for the production of high-performance lithium-ion batteries from mid-2012.

BASF has also entered the field of electrolyte development. High-quality tailored electrolytes are essential for battery performance. 

“By entering into the electrolyte business we are expanding our portfolio of innovative solutions for high-performance lithium-ion batteries and as a future system supplier, we will be able to support our customers' competitiveness in the electromobility field,” said Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer, research executive director of BASF SE. 

In addition to developing materials for lithium-ion batteries, BASF is researching future battery concepts such as lithium-sulfur and lithium-air.

“With our research activities we are substantially contributing to making electric cars affordable, environment friendly and sustainable,” Kreimeyer explained. “For this we need batteries and further innovative components that provide a greater driving range with less weight and lower costs.” 

To compensate for the additional battery weight of about 200 kg and allow for an acceptable driving range, the weight of electric vehicles must be reduced through lightweight construction components. This naturally places new demands on the materials, including completely new properties in terms of temperature stability, electromagnetic screening and fire resistance. 

Although plastics already contribute greatly to vehicular weight savings when incorporated in the chassis, interior and engine compartment, further multifunctional lightweight construction concepts are needed. For example, BASF is working on fast-curing epoxy, polyurethane and polyamide resins for fiber reinforced composites to be used in the manufacture of lightweight vehicle bodies. These materials can provide further weight savings of up to 100 to 150 kilograms in structural components and chassis.

BASF also offers solutions for improving heat management in electric cars. “When the temperatures rise in summer, the car's air conditioner consumes additional energy, reducing the vehicle’s driving range,” Kreimeyer said. When incorporated in interiors and automotive coatings, pigments that reflect the heat-generating infrared rays of sunlight prevent the temperature from getting too high inside the car. And while the combustion engine provides exhaust heat in winter, an electric vehicle consumes electricity to heat the interior. To keep energy consumption low under these conditions, it is necessary to insulate electric vehicles against the cold with high-performance foams. This also increases the car’s driving range.

“Electromobility will only significantly contribute to environmental and climate protection when the electricity from the batteries has been generated high efficiently and with less CO2,” Kreimeyer said. “Therefore, we are investing in research to find ways of generating electricity from renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar energy. We are also developing innovative storage technologies because in our latitudes these forms of energy are not available 24/7.”