27 January 2023
King Willem-Alexander opens ELEO battery production plant in Helmond
Interview with Margriet van Schijndel and Tijs Donkers of the Eindhoven University of Technology, partner of the Battery Competence Center
My name is Margiet van Schijndel and I am program manager Responsible Mobility within EASI on the TU/e. EASI stands for Eindhoven AI Systems Institute. As the name suggests, we focus on AI or artificial intelligence. Mobility is an important element within all our faculties. That is why you can find our people throughout the university. I think that future mobility always needs some sort of battery. Data and AI can have a positive impact on the performance of battery technology.
My name is Tijs Donkers and I am associate professor at the faculty of electrical engineering. I specialize in control engineering and I work a lot with batteries. I am no chemist, so I don’t open them up. For me, a battery is the same as for the average human being; it has a plus and minus pole and if you put it into a device, it will work. Or it won’t. When measuring a battery, data is generated and that is where my area of expertise comes in. We can use this data, which constitutes the link between battery technology and AI.
Within the Battery Competence Center, the TU/e focuses on predicting battery capacity and lifespan. But we also look at it from a wider perspective. For example, how do you design the whole system, or how can we design batteries to be more (energy) efficient from the start? The batteries in our phones are probably not the same batteries we need to create, and maintain, a sustainable and stable power grid. The power grid in the Netherlands is pretty congested. To solve that, we need new types of battery technologies. Besides, the disposal of old batteries is also something to consider, as batteries ultimately become chemical waste. How to set up a production process to ensure it is circular from the start?
Batteries are more than just a device; they are part of a system. They are manufactured, used and reused. Then they become waste, which we can hopefully use to create new things. We are the ones that consider the life cycle. In doing so, we also look at other applications, outside the mobility sector.
Take our power grid, for example, which is becoming increasingly dependent on batteries. On sunny days, the solar panels in the Netherlands generate a lot of energy, resulting in a grid that is becoming congested. We can translate the lessons learned from battery use in vehicles to solutions for storage of solar energy. We also generate innovations by using data in a targeted way in AI. However, energy is needed to use artificial intelligence. It might even have substantial impact on the life span and energy supply of your battery. What can we do about that? How can we make AI more future proof? Those are the topics that contribute to the research being conducted at the BCC. Our industrial partners focus on mobility, but a sustainable connection to the power grid is a Dutch problem.
If the models are correct, we make them available to the industry. So they can use them to make predictions; ‘if we install a battery this way, this will be the expected life span.’ The many different queries we receive from the industry, make it very interesting for us as TU/e to participate in the BCC.
The Automotive Campus in Helmond has significantly increased in size and activity. Without an ecosystem such as the BCC, that activity would not have been able to increase to such extent. And this activity stimulates innovation. The Netherlands doesn’t manufacture any batteries, but it is good at adding intelligence. It is knowledge-intensive work to assemble those modules and to add intelligence. You need qualified people to do that. At TU/e, we train these people by having them conduct research.
Collaboration is in our DNA. Of course, we are already collaborating with the partners within the BCC, but as far as we are concerned the cluster is never complete. We need people from outside the cluster to help us stay focused, so we know what the issues are, and to inspire one another and share knowledge. The BCC enables us all to collaborate, find each other, understand the added value of collaboration and continue to challenge each other. But we also have to look beyond the BCC. Both nationally and internationally, but also beyond the borders of the mobility system, at energy suppliers for example. Not the easiest job perhaps, but it is important for the region.
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