Limhi Sommerville is an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) student at WMG, University of Warwick. His project research looks into how to improve the life of electric vehicle batteries for automotive applications. This research being undertaken by Limhi is sponsored by Jaguar Land Rover.
The following is an interview conducted with Limhi and his supervisors for JLR's in-house magazine:
Can you tell us a little about your background and your area of research?
My background is in chemistry and I spent the final year of my degree working on solar panels. I was looking for an EngD project related to renewable technologies and that’s why I applied to Warwick.
My project is ultimately to improve how long a battery lasts in automotive applications. Coming from an electrochemist’s point of view, the focus is more on understanding why and how a battery has aged or failed. I’m putting together a procedure that allows us to analyse these batteries and use this information to improve cell lifetime on future products.
I’ve spent the last year pulling together what we know about batteries and what everyone else knows about batteries as well. Now I’m looking at the physical procedure of taking the battery apart, working out the differences between a new battery and an old battery, and identifying what has been different in their lifecycles.
The work that I’m doing will end up in a model which will allow a manufacturer to plan for something as simple as a warranty for the product, but it will also tell us how the battery is aging and how we then plan for that into the future.
Automotive uses for batteries are fairly unique and the demands placed upon them will be hugely different. If you take your mobile phone as an example, even with the best charging procedures in the world, your battery may last three years, whereas an automotive battery has to last for a lifetime or the lifetime of that vehicle, which makes it a totally different proposition. Limhi’s work is allowing us to target variables that attack the battery’s longevity, like temperature or vibration.
Battery technology could be vital for the automotive industry in the future. Modelling allows me to simulate life cycles of the battery in the vehicle and decide if it will last ten or fifteen years. The models can show me how the different chemistries react and things that will change. Modelling is undeniably the future of battery engineering as it will be how we produce the vehicles of the future.
My work inputs into the model, and the data that I’m able to collect tells the model what’s important and what JLR need to consider.
Modelling also allows us to nip things in the bud early on in the development stage, ultimately saving us money. It allows us to optimise our processes so we can get to the warranty target quicker and more efficiently. Before we get to designing and manufacturing the hardware, we can advise on what tolerances the battery can be put under and whether the size of a certain bracket needs to be changed. The modelling allows us to do this much earlier on and get to a point where the knowledge is driving the design.
How is the project useful to Jaguar Land Rover and how does the arrangement work?
We’re essentially working on emerging technology and we’re just starting to understand the ways that batteries work and how batteries don’t work. We’re really getting to grips with what’s going on in the battery and how best to control that.
What Limhi is doing is looking at one of the fundamental areas in how batteries really age and how they behave over a lifetime and this has major implications on a hybrid’s fuel economy, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle’s lifecycle or range, and how that changes over a vehicle’s life. If there are root causes, we need to know how to stop those root causes.
Limhi’s work is fairly crucial to our wider battery programme so he’s making a real contribution to the workstream. Limhi’s had more responsibility than perhaps other’s might, and the feedback and sharing of information is two-way. The main thing for us is allowing Limhi to contextualise the problem and understand its real world transferability.
Having that contact allows me to quickly understand if a line of enquiry is important, as I run it past them and they tell me if it’s a relevant course of investigation. It doesn’t mean that it’s not important, it just means that it’s not important to JLR.
How is the project going and what benefits are you seeing in parties working together?
We’re in a fairly unique situation with our tie-in with the company and the University. This is part of an umbrella project – the High Value Manufacturing Catapult project – to look at energy storage in general. The collaboration on energy storage here is between WMG, Tata and JLR and we have Tata Motor’s European Technical Centre on site at the University.
The partnership we have here is massive and it’s feeding innovation and growth. From a research point of view, bringing in the industrial relevance to the project automatically gives you focus when you first start and sets targets for your research and studies. Although I felt a little overwhelmed at the start of the project, I certainly felt less lost than I could have been.
By the end of his course of study, Limhi will be telling us where we should be looking. Limhi will give us a real depth of expertise that we don’t have represented at the moment.
What we’re doing here is pushing the boundaries of engineering in the UK. We’re also starting to grasp fundamental things that are pretty unique within the industry. Because of this unique collaboration we have here, we can look into areas that we wouldn’t normally look at in an engineering environment. Because of the academic involvement, we can explore new theories or areas that might have not been applicable due to them not being deemed transferable. Now we’re learning more than ever before. JLR and WMG are really starting to lead the industry in terms of new research and new findings.
The EngD is just as much about developing the individual as well as the transferability so Limhi is gaining a broad range of competencies on his way to becoming an engineering leader, which is ultimately our aim.
Loosely speaking, it’s Andy’s and my job to ensure Limhi is satisfying all of the academic requirements and Chris is ensuring that the work that he’s doing has the maximum impact at JLR, which is ultimately what WMG is all about. Improving competiveness in industry and bridging the gap between academia and industry.
As part of his EngD programme, Limhi is now on a one year placement with the Battery and Energy Storage research group at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, USA.