Echion reveals how its battery anode material has the potential to increase the power densities of train battery packs

3 min read

Ben Ting, chief commercial officer at Echion Technologies, reveals more detail about the firm’s battery anode material and outlines how it will be tested in partnership with Transport Design International, thanks to recent UK Government funding.

Ben Ting, chief commercial officer at Echion Technologies
Ben Ting, chief commercial officer at Echion Technologies

Echion Technologies supplies high-power Li-ion battery anode materials to battery cell manufacturers, that enable them to produce superfast charging lithium-ion battery cells for a range of applications.

Unique battery anode chemistry makes Echion Technologies’ products innovative. Echion’s XNO battery anode material is based on niobium oxide, a readily available material that, when engineered by Echion, can deliver up to twice the energy and power densities of LTO (lithium titanate) lithium-ion battery cells. LTO battery cells are today’s standard “fast charging / long life, high safety” battery chemistry and are commonly used in the first generation of battery trains.

Echion’s XNO delivers lithium-ion battery performance suited for industrial applications that demand the highest productivity and lowest total cost of ownership:

  • XNO anodes enable lithium-ion batteries to safely fast charge in less than 10 minutes, yet maintain high energy densities even at low temperatures, and deliver high power across a cycle life of more than 10,000 cycles.
  • With higher volumetric and gravimetric energy and power densities, and the long cycle life expected in XNO batteries, Echion’s XNO battery anode material aims to deliver lower total cost of ownership on a £/kWh/cycle basis, when compared to batteries using LTO battery anode materials.

With these benefits, XNO has the potential to provide technical and commercial advantages in high-value, fast-growing markets, which are not currently available with other anode technologies.

For applications in trains, XNO has the potential to increase energy and power densities of the required train battery pack. Therefore, the industry practice of ‘oversizing’ train batteries to deliver the required power in charge or discharge, or to meet the minimum required energy capacity, can be mitigated, helping optimize the cost of batteries for trains.

The improvement delivered by Echion XNO when applied to trains can only be quantitatively estimated if a specific train type and operational use case / route is known and a feasibility study completed.

A grant of (close to) £60,000, of the £5m available funding, was awarded to enable Echion to undertake a feasibility study through the November 2022 Innovate UK ‘First of a Kind’ (FOAK) competition. The competition focused on new concepts that will transform rail travel for passengers and decarbonize the network. Echion’s funding was awarded to enable it to undertake a feasibility study, alongside partners Transport Design International (TDI) on TDI’s Revolution Very Light Rail (Revolution VLR) train.

Revolution VLR trains recharge batteries through a combination of opportunity charging and regenerative braking. Currently, like other battery-hybrid rolling stock models, Revolution VLR trains can run in battery-only mode on sections of track, enabling them to operate in “discontinuous electrification” networks.    

Recently, discontinuous electrification, using diesel-hybrid trains has started coming online. The adoption of battery-hybrid trains in similar discontinuously electrified routes will be dependent on the ability of such trains to deliver similar or better operational efficiencies to their diesel-hybrid counterparts. 

Generally, this requires the train battery to handle “flash charging”, whereby the train batteries can be primed to safely accept as much charge as possible during short station dwell or turnaround times. Ultimately, the FOAK funding will seek to assess the feasibility of batteries using Echion’s XNO anode for such applications.   

It is an imprecise simplification to state that the FOAK funding has been awarded to Echion to generally investigate opportunities for “self-charging” trains (note: self-charging trains is not a term which Echion, nor TDI Limited use). The feasibility study is specifically intended to determine how Echion’s innovative XNO battery chemistry can uniquely unlock opportunities for TDI’s Revolution VLR to run in battery-only mode on sections of track that have not been electrified, with better productivity versus using today’s battery technology.

While the study is in its infancy, if successful, it could offer major benefits for railway service providers and governing bodies striving to achieve the UK's ambitious net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

While XNO is not a silver bullet for the decarbonization of the entire global transport network, it is an innovative chemistry, developed specifically for high duty applications analogous to railways, so must be considered alongside other potential solutions for achieving these ambitious decarbonization targets. In this light, Echion is hopeful that the FOAK funding also allows for its XNO technology to be promoted and considered for adoption by a range of railway stakeholders.