A mobile phone charging
Echion Technologies Ltd has been pushing the boundaries of lithium-ion technology to radically increase the speed that batteries could charge and discharge.

Whether it’s the phone in your pocket, the car on the drive, or a train of the future – faster-charging, more sustainable, safer batteries have the power to change our lives.

With the help of funding via four collaborative R&D projects from Innovate UK as part of the Faraday Battery Challenge, (CASCADE, High powered anodes for fast charging buses, SUPErB and HC-HiPE), Echion Technologies Ltd has been pushing the boundaries of lithium-ion technology to radically increase the speed that batteries could charge and discharge. The best industry-standard battery charging times are around 30 minutes at present, but Echion has been developing a mixed niobium-oxide anode active material (XNO®) that has the potential to reduce that to less than five minutes.

The team believes the technology offers huge scope for manufacturing high-power battery materials with a long cycle life, suitable for large industrial applications such as railways, ferries, and heavy goods vehicles. The technology is moving quickly.

“It’s quite a hot space” smiles Dr Alex Groombridge, Chief Technical Officer at Echion, now the world’s leading supplier of niobium-based anode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

“Batteries have become a big topic in the last five or ten years, primarily for e-mobility. But also, in pretty much all the mobile devices we wish to use. We’re looking at the high-power, long-life side of things.”

A Faraday Institution Industry Fellowship has enabled Echion to benefit from the input of materials chemist, Professor Peter Slater from the University of Birmingham. The collaboration has made enormous progress over the past two years to identify two new XNO® phases, including assessment of their performance and in-depth materials characterisation. These have been taken as new potential products into Echion’s new product development cycle, where they are being assessed for commercial viability and manufacturability.

As a direct result of the fellowship, a patent has been filed for a new type of XNO® material, specifically for those with even higher performance for ultra-fast charge and high-power lithium-ion applications. The patent application is now at the international stages.

The success has led to the Fellowship being extended for another two years.

It’s very good to be at the forefront of science. Through this project, we discovered new materials, a new type of structure. It works very well and that’s why the patent has gone in. You get that new frontier feeling!

Professor Peter Slater, Co-Director of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage

Joining them both for this next phase is Dr Lizzie Driscoll. Peter describes her as a “dynamic researcher” who has done her PhD and post-doc work at the University of Birmingham with a focus on battery materials and recycling, including as part of Faraday Institution projects. The extension to the Fellowship has been vital in enabling this career development opportunity.

A joint paper is being submitted in the spring of 2023. Peter says the aim is to make it a “go-to” paper in the field of niobium-oxide phases, to establish a standardisation of measurement, and be at the forefront of academic advancement.

Peter and Alex both say their collaboration has accelerated this product development, bringing together an academic mindset with a commercial drive.

Meanwhile, Echion has already signed a number of supply agreements with customers and is in the process of securing large scale production capacity by 2024. It is an exciting time.

“We believe we’re at the front of the race,” says Alex. ”Now we can really see the impact that our technology can make, not just to our customers, but to how devices are used around the world.”

The technology being developed by Echion has a heavy focus on sustainability, with studies showing that manufacturing of the XNO® materials produce half the CO2 emissions of commercially available lithium titanate anode materials, the current market leader for some niche applications.

What to hear more? Watch this video outlining Echion Technologies’ involvement in Innovate UK projects as part of the Faraday Battery Challenge.