This is the future of batteries. As explained by Marco Righi, founder and number one of Kaitek Flash Battery.
Flash Battery lithium-ion batteries? Special and tailor-made
Although Kaitek Flash Battery remains a small company, it is undergoing a tumultuous ascent and is currently one of the top three industrial battery companies in Europe.
Kaitek Flash Battery is also at the centre of the challenge between China and the West for the control over the strategic component of every electric vehicle.
“Europe is so far behind” says Marco Righi, “that it will take years. But in the automotive sector, no effort is being spared. I believe that in four or five years, the demands of the European car industry will be met by European battery manufacturers“.
However, his company is not focusing on cars, which require big numbers. Instead, Kaitek (52 employees, of which 25 are involved in research and development) produces tailor-made accumulators. The accumulators are manufactured in small and medium series for special vehicles such as AVGs and LGVs for material handling, vehicles for deliveries in old town centres, construction machinery, agricultural machines, GSE and boats.
Everything is interconnected and updated on-the-air.
The cells are selected on the market according to the required performance.
They are then assembled and the sophisticated control electronics that “bring them to life” are designed.
“The chemistry of the cells is just the starting point, there are a lot of other things that are packed into the battery” Righi explains.
This includes the heat control systems, insulation controls, BMS, fast charge communication boards, monitoring. Remote monitoring is an additional value developed by Kaitek Flash Battery.
Flash Battery, a wealth of big data
Every living moment of the 5,000 batteries sold and interconnected is recorded and stored on a database that has no equals in the industrial world. This is exactly why the company from Reggio Emilia has taken the lead in the European Union Battery Alliance project.
“Analysis of this data” says Righi “allows us to improve predictive operations; but also to act remotely with updates that optimise vehicle parameters based on the customer’s specific use“.
According to Righi, the next five or six years will see improvements to chemistry and electronics (“The 100 dollars per kWh target in car batteries is not that far off. However, the industrial landscape is different”) but the major quantum leaps are not yet on the horizon. In the laboratory, experiments with lithium-sulphur and lithium-air prototypes and even organic batteries are already multiplying.
“The most talked-about are lithium-air” he comments, “but for the time being it’s a matter of who can tell the best story. It’s one thing to produce a button battery, but producing a 600 kg battery is a completely different kettle of fish“.
LFP chemistry batteries would last for 30 years in cars
Soon the challenge will be between NMC chemistry (Nickel, Manganese, Cobalt), the most common in the car sector, and LFP chemistry (Lithium, Iron, Phosphate) which prevails in the industrial sector.
“Batteries are not particularly stressed by car use. They need high energy capacity and fast recharge speed. Our industrial applications aim for duration and safety, mainly through LFP chemistry“.
Batteries with LFP chemistry now reach about 4,000 recharging cycles; on a car that would mean a lifetime of 30 years. They have a slightly lower energy capacity, a slightly slower recharge time and more complex electronic management. However, they are less expensive, they do not contain cobalt and they are less subject to runaway phenomena.
“I predict that we will reach a convergence; supercars will continue to adopt NMC chemistry, whereas utility cars could benefit from an improved LFP chemistry“.
Electric battery boom in agriculture and construction
During the past one and a half years, Righi has noticed a boom in the agricultural and construction machinery sectors.
Can they make a large-scale switch to becoming fully electric?
“Not for every use. This will certainly happen where use is intermittent. For continuous use, no; I imagine there will be more hybrids with thermal or hydrogen fuel cells supporting the batteries“.
These latter technologies are already being adopted in the shipbuilding sector. For example, Kaitek Flash Battery equips Transfluid nautical powertrains which have already been type-approved for large ships.
Marco Righi has driven a Tesla Model S since 2013, travelling on average about 40-45 thousand kilometres per year. He has never had range anxiety issues. Not so much for the great autonomy guaranteed by his Tesla, but thanks to the efficiency of the Super Charger network.
“The limit of widespread use of electrical cars” he remarks “is not the autonomy of the batteries, but the availability of charging points“.
A final note about the lockdown, which “luckily has only affected us marginally“. Kaitek Flash Battery has stayed open to assist the automatic machines involved in material handling in the food industry, which have been exposed to an unprecedented tour de force over the past few weeks.
“We can see their consumption from remote: they have reached record levels“.
UPDATE During the interview, when talking about FLP chemistry, Marco Righi says that it is already being used in some car batteries, for example by BMW. Naturally, this was a slip of the tongue. He subsequently clarified that he meant to say BYD, the Blade Battery which has just been launched on the market.