How Batteries for Electric Vehicles can be more Sustainable

Dan Shine, President of Analytical Instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Explains how the Company is Trailblazing Advances in Sustainable EV Initiatives

The team at Thermo Fisher Scientific are pushing the boundaries of advanced technologies, with the aim to ensure that its tools move the needle on the performance curve to help its customers reimagine what’s possible with science. Whether viewing more proteins than ever before or seeing atomic structures at a higher resolution, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s technologies are enabling scientists to drive breakthroughs. Dan Shine is the Senior Vice President and President of Analytical Instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific and he’s seen many new developments during his time at the company. 

“I’ve been with Thermo Fisher for 25 years, working in various divisions at the company and on different product portfolios, but I've been in this role since 2016,” he says. “Our analytical instruments portfolio has seen great success in recent years, largely in part because we prioritise actively developing innovative technologies that are helping to advance science — from moving toward precision medicine to next generation battery research and development.”

To truly move science forward, Thermo Fisher Scientific is focused on ensuring that its tools and workflows can be used by scientists with varying degrees of training and experience.

“Utilising AI and other new technologies, we are focused on driving the cutting edge of analytical technology in the lab and supplying end to end solutions that support numerous fields of study with greater ease and usability,” says Shine. 

Here, Shine takes us through Thermo Fisher Scientific’s green energy goals and making EV batteries more sustainable. 

Advancing battery science with sustainable innovation and collaboration

Battery R&D is a dynamic and rapidly evolving field. Improving energy density, reducing costs, enhancing safety and developing sustainable and environmentally friendly materials are all important focus areas. 

Shine explains: “At Thermo Fisher, we’re working to create technological solutions to help researchers advance the battery industry and resolve today’s toughest problems and future needs.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific’s electron microscopes are a principal tool helping to advance battery science and engineering. They are uniquely able to address complex challenges, such as:

  • Quality control for producing consistently flawless batteries 
  • Materials characterisation for the development of safer, cleaner batteries with higher energy density than ever before.

“We believe that investments in battery R&D will remain strong in the next decade — and not only in universities and academic knowledge centres — but also in battery manufacturing, government and private sectors,” Shine states. “We’ve already seen heavy investments in battery research and development to advance technology and address global challenges, like the adoption of clean energy solutions, expansion of electric vehicle batteries and safer disposal and recycling of batteries.”

Today, there's a new variety of active materials and many researchers are looking at more common materials, like sodium, to make improvements to battery life and make battery manufacturing more sustainable. 

“Low- and mid-nickel nickel-manganese-cobalt variants are beginning to phase out, while lithium ferro-phosphate has re-emerged due to reduced cost, higher safety and improvements to packaging design,” Shine explains.

The development of different generations and diverse types of lithium-ion batteries are requiring new tools and novel solutions and fit-for-purpose analytical techniques. Shine knows that Thermo Fisher Scientific is well positioned to support this research and new developments. 

“We have a large portfolio of analytical tools, from electron microscopes to ICP, to all kinds of spectroscopy, FTIR, Raman, XRF and chromatography. Labs can also leverage technology for battery cell processing such as extruders and profilometers and solutions for recycling, which is an extremely important part of the process,” says Shine. “Not only can battery recycling improve yields, but it can also help to eliminate scraps and waste from the overall process making battery manufacturing more cost effective and sustainable.”

Every industry is searching for ways to increase its sustainability credentials, to win the favour of customers and stakeholders.  The irony is that while electric vehicles can lower carbon emissions, decrease air pollution and support the circular economy, its batteries — the beating heart of the vehicle — are not sustainable. The production of lithium-ion batteries requires mining for lithium and nickel, a process which can lead to soil and water pollution. Much of the world’s cobalt, another component for lithium-ion batteries, is sourced from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been accused of poor working conditions and child labour.

As a result, many scientists are developing new chemistries for batteries, by using more common and less expensive materials. 

“In one example, researchers are exploring the use of sodium-based batteries to replace lithium-based batteries,” Shine shares. “By using a more common and affordable element, sodium-based cells could help alleviate environmental stressors and eliminate the use of toxic lead making a cleaner and safer battery.”

It’s important to note that the effort toward sustainable solutions with next generation batteries involves all battery components - from material selection to manufacturing to recycling. 

“We expect battery design to become more recycling-friendly, which will help support battery afterlife recovery, aiding a circular economy and a holistically more sustainable battery industry.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific has placed a strong emphasis on becoming a global partner of choice for analytical solutions in clean energy and is focused on providing scientists and cell manufacturers with innovative instruments, consumables, software and services to achieve this aim. 

“Our systems touch every part of the value chain, from the mineral extraction and processing of the raw material to cell process and manufacturing and recycling,” explains Shine. 

Because of its global presence, Thermo Fisher Scientific is uniquely suited to connect stakeholders around the world, across industries and sectors, to collectively work toward a more sustainable future.

“Our analytical solutions are used for energy independence and renewable energy sources to support zero emission goals, which is well aligned with our mission to help our customers make the world healthier, cleaner and safer,” says Shine.

Thermo Fisher Scientific's Clean Energy Forum and battery innovation 

2023 saw Thermo Fisher’s first-ever Clean Energy Forum take place in September in La Jolla, California. The forum brought together scientists and engineers from top research institutions, including Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Stanley Whittingham, to highlight the latest research and technical developments in advanced solutions for battery R&D and manufacturing. 

“We had the privilege of hosting our first ever Clean Energy Forum, alongside renowned Professor Y. Shirley Meng, PhD from the University of Chicago,” says Shine. “Cross-industry synergy and collaboration is imperative to enhance research and move the future of batteries towards cleaner energy options. We had a unique combination of thought leaders from academia and industry at the event, so key takeaways offered a broad perspective about where the industry is heading — from technological and material needs to applications in labs and beyond.”

Students studying batteries and clean energy were also invited to attend, as a core part of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s STEM initiative is to ensure that doors are open for young ambassadors to get the exposure and experience they need to excel in their respective fields.

“The future health and safety of our world depends on them,” declares Shine. “It was truly a collaborative platform focused on the future of clean energy.” With the increased electrification of everything from cars to buildings, Shine expects to see the need for new research into clean energy only continue to expand. 

“We plan to accelerate our efforts in batteries, with fit-for-purpose analytical tools, quality control instruments and workflows, while exploring green hydrogen and solar,” he shares. 

This past year, Thermo Fisher Scientific collaborated with the main battery producers to identify their unmet needs and defined roadmaps to bring more dedicated solutions and applications to the industry, something Shine will continue to do over 2024 and beyond. 

“As we continue to create novel solutions to solve today’s problems, we will remain focused on listening and learning from our customers as they work toward the next big innovation, supporting them with the tools they need to be successful and ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of the market to advance science across industries.”

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