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Melt Spun and Sintered Metal Fibre Networks for Lead-Acid Battery Advancement

Final Report Summary - MEMLAB (Melt Spun and Sintered Metal Fibre Networks for Lead-Acid Battery Advancement)

Executive Summary:
Climate change is one of the largest threats facing the world today. Road transport is responsible for over 15% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, and there are strong drivers to reduce the emissions per vehicle through innovative design and lightweighting. Replacement of lead acid batteries with a light weight solution is a potential key enabling technology for reducing emissions in standard vehicles, and for improving the affordability of more novel solutions such as hybrid electric vehicles.

At present, lead-acid batteries contain a series of lead grids as the electrode plates, with a lead oxide paste on the surface. The solution is low cost (compared for instance to the lithium ion and NiM batteries used in hybrid electric vehicles) but also heavy, resulting in a low energy to weight ratio. There is a need for a light-weight battery technology, of a similar cost structure to existing lead acid batteries, but which can give an improved energy to weight ratio. The number of lead-acid batteries currently manufactured in Europe is approximately 75.2 million per year, and so the development of this technology could potentially offer a large reduction in carbon footprint, as well as improving the technology impact of SMES in Europe.

The aim of the MEMLAB project was to develop lightweight electrodes for use in lead-acid batteries. The project has used state-of-the-art fibre production technology to create titanium and aluminium fibres from recycled scrap. Fibres were then sintered to form electrode plates (metal fibre networks – MFNs) with high surface area. A number of different coating routes were explored to protect the electrodes and provide functionality. A lead electroplating route was determined as the most appropriate coating route and was demonstrated on titanium grids and fibre electrode plates. A number of joining technologies were investigated to produce a reliable contact at the electrode interface with the cell support as well as between cells. Aspects of recycling were also considered in order to minimise the environmental impact of the new technology.

In parallel to the development of the electrode structures, a battery management system (BMS) was developed for the MEMLAB technology in order to allow integration into conventional and hybrid electric vehicles. The BMS has a number of functionalities to allow health monitoring of the battery. Testing of the BMS has shown promising results, including technology demonstration.

The SMEs in the project have a selection of new technologies which could be exploited independently. Final testing of the battery cells showed that it was possible to make the negative electrode with reasonable charge/discharge cycles. The positive electrode would need to be made from a Ti alloy to...

Project Context and Objectives:
Climate change is one of the largest threats facing the world today. At the forefront of combating this threat are low carbon technologies. One of the key objectives of European transport and energy policies is energy efficient, very low polluting and greenhouse gas-neutral transport (1). The development of lightweight lead-acid batteries will immediately assist in reaching this objective. In 2003, the European Automobile manufacturers’ association (ACEA) made a voluntary commitment to reduce the average level of CO2 emissions to 140g/km for new vehicles sold on the European market in 2008. The current average level is around 165-170g/km (2). Therefore, a reduction in weight of automotive batteries offers the potential for significant improvements in carbon emission as part of the battle against Climate change.

Recently, HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicles) have come forward as the most achievable solution of the moment. A hybrid electric vehicle is driven by a combination of a hydrocarbon based engine, for example petrol or diesel and an electric motor and battery power supply. At present, HEV use expensive Lithium ion and Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries due to their high power to weight ratios. Lead-acid batteries offer a cheaper solution that is better for the environment, but due to their lower power-to-weight ratio they are not used.

The number of Lead-Acid batteries currently manufactured in Europe is approximately 75.2 million per year. The manufacturers of the batteries are under threat from Li-ion battery technologies (typically manufactured outside of the EU) that are eroding market share and threatening European jobs. Producing a new form of lower weight battery that is protectable via patents would protect the European producers from overseas competition.

Fibretech (a UK SME), currently manufactures stainless steel and other metallic fibres for a wide range of industrial applications, including brake pads, exhaust systems. They identified the potential to use their fibre technology for lightweight electrodes in lead acid batteries, allowing them to enter a new market. Fibretech identified SME supply chain partners to exploit the technology but they lacked the expertise to undertake the required R&D effort. The Research for SMEs programme allowed Fibretech and its consortium partners to outsource the required research activities to world class research organisations.

The project objective was to achieve a greater than 50% reduction in the overall weight of a lead-acid battery, thereby significantly increasing the power-to-weight ratio and making them viable for use in HEV applications and as direct replacements for current lead-acid batteries. To achieve this objective a substantial amount of innovation was required in both the fibre network structure and coating technology. The overall scientific and technology objectives were:

1. To develop a lead coating technology, which allowed PbO2 to convert to PbSO4, and to achieve a coating thickness of <10µm.

Titanium fibres present a large challenge for electroplating technology. The first issue is the plating of the titanium itself. Lead cannot be plated to titanium directly, and so an interlayer must first be selected. The interlayer must be suitable for plating to titanium, and have a negligible reaction with the subsequent lead plating. The fibrous nature of the surface however is the largest challenge for the plating. As the thickness of the electrodeposited layer is dependent on the current density, and hence the proximity of the two electrodes, it is very difficult to produce an even coating over a fibrous surface.

2. To develop a lead coating technology which allows the coating to remain intact after a very long cycle life (full charge-full discharge) of 1000 deep cycles.

Durability of the electroplated layer is dependent on the quality of bonding between the plating and the electrode, and the continuity of the plating over the electrode. The fibrous nature of the surface gives a challenge in penetration of the platings into recesses, and continuity of coverage. Where inadequate coverage occurs, titanium can corrode, reducing cycle life.

3. To develop a titanium fibre network which allows 50% weight saving on standard lead grid electrode plates, with a thickness of < 2 mm.

Fibretech possesses unique rapid solidification casting technology, and this is used to manufacture stainless steel fibres very economically. The company possesses vacuum sintering technology that can produce fibre network structures using the fibres manufactured on site. In MEMLAB this technology was adapted to produce non-ferrous fibre materials, specifically titanium and aluminium.

Titanium offers a considerably lower density (4.51 g/cm3) compared to lead (11.3 g/cm3) and excellent corrosion resistance. There are practical challenges in producing titanium fibres economically for the automotive battery substrates using conventional melt overflow or other methods due to significant oxidation and the energy intensive nature of the material. In MEMLAB, options were evaluated for processing this material, and a viable Plasma Melt Overflow (PMO) process was developed. To ensure a commercial route in the future, the scale-up to high volume was also considered. The main practical challenges to scale up of the PMO process were plasma torch power and gas; crucible design and size; chamber size; removal of fibres during operation; continuous scrap metal charging into the furnace and controls for optimised processing. Fibretech analysed all of these items within the MEMLAB project, to ensure a commercially viable route after project completion.

4. To develop alternative fibre networks which allow 50% weight saving compared to standard lead grid electrode plates, with a thickness of < 2mm.

Aluminium has an even lower density (2.70g/cm3) than titanium, and so would present the optimum in terms of weight saving. However it may not have the durability of titanium when used in a lead acid battery. Aluminium is easier to manufacture in fibre form, and Fibretech already has some know-how of production of aluminium fibres. However they represent a more difficult fibre material to consolidate into a network, may be difficult to coat and are more susceptible to corrosion. The objective in this project was to explore aluminium networks alongside the titanium networks, to understand the best option for battery electrodes.

5. Develop an electrical control system with a constant power output to achieve a very long cycle life (full charge-full discharge) of 1000 deep cycles.

To optimise battery performance, current hybrid power trains use sophisticated battery management systems (BMS) to control the characteristics of the charge-discharge cycles to which a battery is subjected. The BMS is designed to optimise battery performance and longevity whilst ensuring that it always remains in a safe state. The objective was to develop a BMS that was suitable for the integration of the MEMLAB project results into hybrid electric vehicles and other applications. A BMS is not normally used to control the performance of lead-acid battery systems and this represented an excellent opportunity to develop exploitable intellectual property.

Project Results:
Foreground intellectual property has been developed in the form of five project results:

1. Titanium metal fibre network
Fibretech successfully developed a pilot plant scale process for producing titanium fibres from scrap material. The fibres were produced using a melt spinning process which consisted of melting the metal with a plasma torch. A copper wheel with features is spun in the molten metal and through control of the cutting process the fibres are ejected and collected at the end of the process. Fibretech were able to control the geometries of the fibres by changing the shape of the features engraved on the wheel. Two types of fibres were produced for subsequent sintering trials: grade 1 titanium, 20 x 1 mm, and commercially pure aluminium series, 6 x 1mm. Alternative geometries were also investigated as part of the work, including continuous fibre.

As part of the fibre manufacturing process, Fibretech was able to almost double the production capacity of the pilot scale plant through simple modifications to the equipment and collection system.

Initial visual inspection of the titanium fibres found that they were mainly silvery in appearance, but on close inspection it could be seen that some were golden and purple-blue. The diversity in colour of the fibres is directly correlated to their oxidation state. The gold colour could indicate the presence of TiO to a certain extent whereas purple-blue colour could be attributed to the presence of Ti2O3. The oxides are formed during the melt spinning process as a result of the presence of residual oxygen in the furnace chamber. Improved control of the quality of the gas feed into the furnace was found to significantly reduce the occurrence of oxidation.

A scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used for a more detailed inspection of the fibres and to characterise their geometry and texture. Energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis was also performed to verify the appropriate chemical composition of the fibres and to make sure they were contaminant-free. It was found that the titanium fibre was cylindrical and presents a specific texture which resembles small particles lying under the surface. The fibre also has a partially curved geometry which resembles a half-pipe with serrated edges. The purity of the fibres was chemically assessed with EDX and traces of Cu were found on the surfaces whilst the core of the fibre was made of pure titanium. The contamination of the fibre probably originated from the copper casting wheel used in the melt spinning process.

A sintering process was successfully developed for processing the titanium fibres into metal fibre networks (MFNs). An example of a sintered titanium MFN structure can be seen in Figure 1 in the attached file. The sintering process was a high temperature vacuum process that relies on the diffusivity of the elements involved to create a bond between the fibres. The fibres were weighed and then washed in an ultrasonic bath with acetone to remove the dirt and grease left on the fibres after manufacturing. Afterwards, the fibres were dried on absorbent paper and randomly arranged between two alumina tiles. Finally, the fibres were placed in a vacuum bonding furnace with a stainless steel weight on top to improve the contact of the fibres. Different temperature profiles were tested, to determine the influence of maximum temperature (900 – 1200ºC), fibre quantity (9 and 18g) and dwell time (30 and 120 minutes) on sintering characteristics and mechanical properties. Scanning electron microscopy analysis of the samples and mechanical testing showed that the fibres had successfully sintered together to form a network and that processing conditions could have a significant effect on mechanical properties. A vacuum furnace was used for sintering trials due to the high sensitivity of titanium to oxidation.

Brazing and resistance welding were also investigated as methods of consolidating the fibres. Preliminary results from the brazing trials (TiNi 67, TiCuNi and Incusil-ABA) showed unsatisfactory penetration of the braze through the fibre network resulting in weakly bonded fibre bundles. Whilst it is believed that this process could be improved, the sintering process represented a better technique for manufacture of the MFNs. Resistance welding trials did indicate that it was possible to consolidate the fibres, but the strength of the bond varied significantly. It was believed that this variation was as a result of the differing contact areas between the fibres and electrodes as well as surface oxidation occurring during welding.

2. Aluminium metal fibre network
Aluminium fibres were successfully produced by Fibretech. The aluminium fibres appeared silvery and shiny under visual examination. The short length of the fibres conferred good flow characteristics and facilitated their arrangement into a square network prior to sintering trials.

The SEM images revealed that the fibres were curled, straight and in other undefined shapes. Similarly to Ti fibres, the Al exhibited curved fibres in a crescent-shape; this was probably due to the feature on the melt-spun casting wheel. The surface of the fibres looked smooth although small white marks were distinguishable. During the investigation it was found that some inter–batch contamination occurred with a few titanium fibres being mixed in with the aluminium fibres. A modification to the fibre collection device was able to resolve this issue.

The chemical composition of the fibres was studied using EDX. The core of the fibre was pure aluminium whereas the regions at the surface of the fibres were examined and the presence of diverse foreign elements such as titanium, copper, zinc and nickel was found. These surface occurring elements may result from contaminants within the furnace and possibly within the scrap feedstock.

The sintering of aluminium was not as straightforward as titanium since aluminium forms a tenacious alumina layer when exposed to oxygen, forming a physical barrier to sintering. When sintering titanium under vacuum, the oxide layer can be reduced back. However, this approach does not work for aluminium. To address this issue a range of different approaches were trialled, e.g. use of magnesium gettering, which allowed the sintering of the aluminium MFN to be completed successfully.

Different process parameters were investigated, including the effect of maximum sintering temperature (550 – 630ºC), fibre content (0.5 and 1.5g) and dwell time (30 and 120 minutes). Scanning electron microscopy provided evidence of bonding between the fibres, although this was not as strong as for the titanium MFNs. Resistance welding trials did not result in welds for the aluminium fibres and would need further development of the equipment and tooling to achieve success.

3. Electrical control system

The first requirement of the work to produce a BMS for the MEMLAB project was to acquire charge/discharge data on the experimental cells being produced by other project partners. This cell characterisation data was then used for comparison between different cell chemistries and manufacturing processes as well as to determine the likely capacity of any MEMLAB battery. Using the agreed electronic prototyping boards, a system for cell characterisation was constructed with the appropriate embedded software. This configurable system was capable of cycling a test cell from full charge to full discharge. Provision was made on the electronic system to measure pressure and PH to provide added functionality to the final system.

Cell characterisation was conducted on the MEMLAB plate provided with a constant current discharge profile down to a minimum cell voltage of 1.6v and a constant voltage charge of 2.45v until the current fell below 0.2 amps. These values being agreed with the partners, this first test was primarily intended to prove the electronic characterisation system using the first available MEMLAB plate (not intended for collection of representative capacity data). The cell characterisation system successfully cycled the MEMLAB test cell for 5 cycles while collecting data. The cell cycling was limited to 5 cycles due to cell deterioration which required the development of a protective coating layer.

When manufacturing a lead acid cell, the individual plates constituting that cell need to be conditioned before use/testing which entails repeated charge/discharge cycling of the plates. For multiple cells to form a battery or for comparative testing of individual cells, the conditioning parameters and cycles need to be the same. This conditioning process can very time consuming, particularly when a large number (10’s to 100’s) of plates are envisaged within the MEMLAB project. As a result, MIRA developed and produced an automated and variable parameter/cycle count version of the cell characterisation system that could be set for automatic plate preparation. This automated system was delivered to TWI to assist in the MEMLAB cell production.

The second stage of BMS development (multi-cell battery string) was developed and tested using a representative battery cells, identified by the partners as the benchmark for MEMLAB comparison. The use of these benchmark cells allowed the development of the BMS to continue separately from the electrode development. Once sufficient MEMLAB cells were available, it was possible to then switch from the benchmark cell with only minimal re-calibration required as a result of differences in cell capacity.

During the development of the BMS it was necessary to develop and test a BMS algorithm and hardware for the control of a multi-cell battery string with consideration of charge/discharge optimisation for increase in cycle life. The length of the cell string was set so as to be nominally 12 volts (6 cells). This voltage range also being suitable for automotive engine start applications. The BMS measured and logged these parameters; using the derived information in a control algorithm for determining an accurate measure of State of Charge (SoC) as well as estimate of cycle life and cell health.

The third stage of the BMS development process was to combine the control of multiple strings of battery cells (arrangements of cell blocks in series and parallel connection combinations) to form a viable automotive battery with the associated voltage and current levels. For use in a vehicle, this BMS system also had the facility to communicate battery status information. The BMS measured and logged critical parameters and used the derived information in a control algorithm for determining an accurate measure of SoC. In accordance with the agreed specification, the BMS included the safe connection/disconnection and fault monitoring of the battery. All the relevant information was provided via a CAN data link (CAN being the most common communication medium in modern automotive vehicles).

The MEMLAB Battery Monitoring System (BMS) assembly was divided and built in two separate elements; the battery strings and all signal conditioning components onto one base plate and the microcontrollers onto the second base plate. The two base plates then being used side by side or stacked on top of each other to allow flexibility for installation.

The software development tool chain selected by the MEMLAB project partners responsible for the delivery of the BMS (MIRA and SystematIC) was FLOWCODE V6 which is compatible with common automotive 8, 16 and 32 bit micro-processors including PIC, ds-PIC and ARM. This tool chain includes a range of debugging tools and automotive friendly development hardware aids that allowed the MEMLAB partners to investigate and generate the core BMS algorithm without distraction by the need to design peripheral interface functions in either hard or software.

The BMS system (hardware and embedded software) was assembled and tested for function against the specification using the benchmark cells (4 strings of 6). An example of the BMS can be seen in Figure 3 in the attached file and the BMS connected to a vehicle in Figure 4. Current measurement was found to have a resolution of less than 0.5 amps, capacity resolution better than 1% and string health voltage resolution better than 300mv.

4. Coating technology

At the outset of the project it was envisaged that a coating would be required to provide capacity to the battery and to form a conductive layer for current flow. Early investigations determined that the coating would also be required to act as a barrier layer to due to charge/discharge cycling effects. Two coating routes were investigated; electroplating and sol-gel deposition.

The development of a successful electroplating route for coating titanium was much more challenging than initially thought. It was determined that a multi-layer approach was required using up to three different interlayers and different process parameters and plating solutions. The two most promising interlayers that were considered were tin and copper. Copper proved to be the more suitable, in terms of coverage and long term durability. The electroplating of copper onto titanium was found to be quite challenging, but was successfully developed.

A copper plating solution was developed and the plating bath was held at a stable temperature of 45°C with a current density of 2A/dm2 applied for 5 minutes. Rinsing steps (running water then de-ionised water) were applied following the plating procedure to remove all residual plating solution from the substrate.

Once a suitable intermediary layer had been developed, lead plating was then undertaken on various different substrates using a standard lead plating solution. The solution temperature was 25°C, and a current density of 2A/dm2 was applied for 20 minutes using pure lead anodes. Following plating, specimens were rinsed in running water, de-ionised water, then dried. An example of a lead plated sintered titanium MFN structure can be seen in Figure 2 in the attached file.

Samples were sent to MIRA and Inci AKU for characterisation, and following feedback of test data, a further treatment stage was developed which improved electrical and corrosion performance. Results showed that there was an increased coverage of lead, and this improved lifetime and performance in subsequent testing.

In addition to the to the electroplating process development, a sol-gel coating route was also developed on the basis that it may produce a high surface area coating for increased battery capacity. A process was developed to manufacture the lead precursor, Pb(propionate)4, then to deposit the sol-gel on the substrate and finally to convert it to lead.

The precursor was developed from lead oxide which was dried under vacuum to remove any moisture before being suspended in neat propionic acid (added in large excess). Propionic anhydride was also added to remove the water that was generated when the acid reacts with the oxide. The suspension was heated until the oxide dissolved in the acid, and then the solution was stirred for 1h. During cooling, the desired product, Pb(propionate)4 precipitated out and the initial bright yellow colour dissipated overnight. The product was dissolved in methanol to produce the final 15% w/w solution. The ‘sol’ phase was formed adding water to the precursor and the gel phase was formed using acetic acid, which catalyses the reaction of the monomer with itself to form a lead oxide network. The product form was a viscous gel.

Copper foils were etched in concentrated sulphuric acid (50%wt) until a bright finish was obtained. The foils were rinsed in water and isopropanol and finally dried in air. The sol-gel was applied using a dip coating technique and curing was carried out in a vacuum oven at 150ºC to remove any by-products. Analysis of the resulting coatings was carried out using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray analysis. Results showed that a lead coating could be achieved via a sol-gel method, although there was also evidence that residual organic compounds could have formed due to an uncompleted reaction. These compounds would be detrimental to the adhesion and the corrosion resistance of the coating. The electroplating route was judged to have more potential for success, and further work was prioritised in this direction.

5. Battery assembly

A battery assembly was manufactured using a positive and negative active mass ratio of 2 positive and 3 negative plates for each cell to balance the active mass. After pasting each positive cell has 37g and each negative cell has 25g active mass after curing. Each cell filled with 120 ml H2SO4 with 1.28g/cm3 density. As a proof of concept it was determined that the grids were functional with a capacity of 4.5Ah. At the transition frequency, the impedance was approximately 8 mohm which is comparable to regular products indicating that, based on internal resistance, the construction could be used as a product. However, it should be noted that the lifetime of the cells was relatively short and it was determined that further work would be needed to optimise the protective coating thickness and consider this effect with the BMS settings.

Potential Impact:
At the outset of the project, the commercial potential for the participating SMEs was in developing lightweight lead-acid batteries for use in hybrid electric, battery electric and existing vehicles. Successful completion of project MEMLAB would provide considerable return to the participating SMEs and would place EU SME manufacturing in a strong position as the rest of the world continues to develop similar technologies. Fibretech and the other SME partners have identified two immediate routes to market for the proposed metal fibre network material. The first route to market is through the established lead-acid battery market as a direct replacement for current lead-acid battery technology. This market has a total annual European market of €225.5 million per year (75.2 million units a year (10)). The participation of Inci Aku within the consortium provided immediate access to this market for the benefit of all of the participating SMEs. The unique selling point of the new lead-acid battery for the SMEs will be the reduction in weight and hence associated benefit in terms of vehicle performance and emissions. For example, a 50% weight reduction is equivalent to 310,000 vehicles in the UK being removed from the road. Within the EU, these numbers would be far greater, particularly as they are based around the number of cars and don't include coaches and lorries. Therefore, initial market penetration will be expected in the performance vehicle market, expanding as the advantages of the technology are disseminated and exploited as per the respective plans created within the project.

The second route to market identified by Fibretech and the other SME partners is through the use of the lightweight lead-acid battery in hybrid electric power packs. The current HEV market is small, although there are a number of notable HEVs produced by the automotive inustry including the Honda Civic IMA, Toyota Prius and Lexus RX400h. However, it is anticipated that this will rapidly increase as financial incentives through legislation are offered to HEV owners. For example, Toyota hopes to see sales of the Prius increase from 280,000 to 450,000, an increase of 60%, in 2009 (11). The growth of the HEV market in 2006 has been reported as approximately 23%. In a UK Department of Transport document entitled 'UK Carbon reduction potential from technologies in the transport sector' it is suggested that by 2020 there will be approximately 4.63 million hybrid electric vehicles on the road (6.9% of the total passenger car fleet). The introduction of lighter, greener, and better performing batteries will help to drive the cost of HEVs down and so assist in their acceptance whilst increasing the market available to the MEMLAB SME partners.

Both the EC in its policies for competitive and sustainable growth, and National Government initiatives, such as the UK Technology Foresight process have identified the importance of materials technologies to the promotion of wealth creation and enhancement of the quality of life. Areas such as nanotechnology, surface engineering, coatings, and fuel cells have been highlighted for further technology development and exploitation. This project has advanced a number of technologies within Europe that are exploitable by the SME partners.

The Lisbon European Council underlined that comprehensive structural improvements are essential to meet targets for growth, employment, environmental issues and social inclusion. This project builds on the development of the internal market to exploit in particular, the benefits of new technology and innovation and to help maximise the benefits of reduced emissions within the EU.

EU policy highlights the protection of the environment as one of its major challenges with the proposal to include a cut in CO2 emissions by at least 20% by 2020. In addition, the “Thematic strategy on air pollution [COM(2005)]” seeks to reduce the emission of SO2 by 82% and particle emissions by 59% compared with the year 2000, by 2020.

At the start of the project it was also foreseen that the materials developed as part of this programme will find applications in a range of additional applications, e.g. MFN for lightweight structural panels. As the project progressed it was determined that the significant barriers to technical development will require a lengthy period of time to overcome. Therefore, the consortium partners are also exploring alternative applications such as vehicle crumple zones, body panels, railway stock bodywork , fuel tanks, aircraft fuselage, cargo containers, platforms/ decking, heat exchangers, diesel particulate filters (DPFs), armour (ballistic and blast protection) and building cladding/facades.

Due to the increased performance demands and reduced environmental impact as a result of constantly changing legislation there is a significant driving force for weight reduction in the transport industry. For example, in the automotive sector a 10% reduction in weight can lead to a reduction in fuel consumption of 6 to 7% and therefore associated lower carbon emissions [2]. The global lightweight materials market is estimated to grow to a value of $133.1 billion by 2019 with demand increasing due to the strengthening of standards of CAFE regulations in the U.S. and the EU regulations on CO2 emissions for vehicles [1]. This also means that for every kilogram of weight reduced in a vehicle, there is about 20 kg of carbon dioxide reduction [2]. In other lightweighting applications such as replacing solid steel shipping containers, for every 100 kg saving of weight in a ship there is a saving of 23 tons of CO2 throughout the life of the ship [3]. By way of example, Maersk currently have approximately 3.1 million containers, if these containers were replaced by lightweight alternatives, this would give a weight reduction of 2.7 gigatonnes [4]. This weight saving leads to a saving in CO2 of 0.6 gigatonnes, if applied to the global shipping container industry, the saving in CO2 would be over 3 gigatonnes.

In terms of functional applications, the use of MFNs are being considered for particulate filter applications. According to UK government documents, air pollution causes an estimated 29,000 early deaths in the UK with associated annual health costs of roughly £15 billion [8]. With respect to developing a DPF substrate, the defra funded Comeap Report [9] looked at the mortality effects of long-term exposure to PM (particulate matter) air pollution in the UK. The report came to 4 major conclusions, one of which was that a policy which aimed to reduce the annual average concentration of PM2.5 (2.5micron sized PM) by 1 μg/m3 would result in a saving of approximately 4 million life years or an increase in life expectancy of 20 days in people born in 2008.

The MEMLAB project aimed to generate information and technology from the results of the project and disseminate this by means of conferences and publications and to develop and implement exploitation plans for each project Beneficiary and potentially for the wider EU community. The main objective of the project was to develop lightweight, high performance lead-acid battery technology.

The consortium members represented a technology supply chain from Fibretech, supplier of the MFN, SystematIC as developer of the BMS, ARVIS developing the recycling procedure and INCI AKU as a potential licensee of the technology for OEM supply. The batteries could then be supplied to MIRA for integration in a vehicle. The MEMLAB dissemination strategy was to:
‘widely promote the MEMLAB project with its European dimension to a wide community of industry and the science base, followed by targeted dissemination to identified user groups to aid rapid exploitation of project output. This will be undertaken through the contacts of the project consortium as well as by reaching out to a broader audience.’

The initial dissemination of the project was made on the project website which can be found at:

The website gives an overview of the project outlining the main objectives and has both public and confidential areas. The website has been developed as a useful tool for the project partners to promote their involvement in the project and is linked to Beneficiaries’ websites and vice versa.

The main business activities of two of the project partners are within the automotive sector. Inci Aku supply many different types of automotive batteries to vehicle manufacturers and are ideally placed to champion the project technology. They provide a direct route to the market for dissemination and for the sale of the MEMLAB technology once sufficiently developed. MIRA (formerly known as the Motor Industry Research Association) is a world class independent vehicle engineering consultancy and is ideally placed to disseminate project results into the automotive sector. The project consortium believes that a promising initial market could be motorsport based as this sector has a track record in testing and developing new and innovative technologies. The participation of IEES, as a world expert in lead-acid batteries, will also assist with project dissemination. TWI will also seek to disseminate project results through its current automotive membership base.

Fibretech have also discussed the possibility of developing an engine component using the titanium substrate material from MEMLAB and automotive applications with three different vehicle manufacturers.

The MEMLAB project agreed that ARVIS SA would lead the project exploitation activities at the outset of the project. They had the responsibility to lead the consortium with the exploitation and dissemination activities and to co-ordinate the actions needed to ensure protection of the IP generated within the scope of MEMLAB.

The Beneficiaries have pursued a proactive policy in pursuing all possible opportunities to protect and exploit Foreground Intellectual Property (IP) arising from this project. Whilst no applications for patents, trademarks and registered designs have been made, considerable ‘know-how’ has been developed for post project exploitation. Of particular relevance is potential licensing of technology to third parties outside the consortium.

The technical challenges that have been encountered within the project e.g. equipment reliability, supply of sufficient fibres, development of the protective coating, have delayed the development of a fully working battery. Therefore, the consortium has considered that the first stages of post-project exploitation should be focussed on the following four exploitable results:

1. Aluminium fibres
2. Titanium fibres
3. Sintered titanium fibre structures
4. Copper plating process

It is envisaged that exploitable results 1 – 3 will be targeted at the current technological drive for lightweighting occurring across most industrial sectors. This is typically being driven by legislation and a drive for reduced carbon emissions. In order for successful exploitation of results 1 to 3 to be achieved, it will be necessary for Fibretech to develop a new plasma melt overflow furnace. The current furnace did not prove sufficiently reliable within the MEMLAB project and thus is the greatest barrier to post-project exploitation. The new furnace would also scale the fibre manufacturing from 200g batches to 50Kg.

In order to fully address the issues associated with reliable fibre manufacturing, Fibretech has identified the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument (SMEi) funding mechanism as a suitable vehicle to develop a commercial scale fibre manufacturing plant. The technology is at the ideal TRL for this mechanism as it has been proven in the lab and the commercial barrier to success is simply one of furnace reliability and production scales.

As described earlier, Fibretech has identified that support under the SME instrument offers the best route forwards to support post project exploitation. The European commission website summarises the available funding as follows:
‘The dedicated SME instrument's supports close-to-market activities, with the aim to give a strong boost to breakthrough innovation. Highly innovative SMEs with a clear commercial ambition and a potential for high growth and internationalisation are the prime target.’

With the support of TWI, Fibretech prepared and submitted a proposal under the H2020 SMEi phase I support mechanism. The proposal was entitled ‘Development of titanium fibre using Plasma Melt Overflow’ (TiFib). Unfortunately this was insufficient to attract funding, however, Fibretech plan to re-apply using the feedback provided from the initial application.

Each of the exploitable results is now being viewed as a product in its own right and a commercialisation risk analysis is being undertaken by the partners most closely involved with the particular technology.

List of Websites:

Dr Nick Ludford

Granta Park,
Great Abington
CB21 6AL

Furthermore, project logo, diagrams or photographs illustrating and promoting the work of the project (including videos, etc...) as well as the list of all beneficiaries with the corresponding contact names can be submitted without any restriction. (please see attached pdf)

The project video can be found at: