While electric cars have become more common over the past few years, we’ve seen slower movement in the realm of electric motorcycles. There are a number of reasons for this, which we’re not here to debate today, but one of the biggest is battery size and capacity. Finding the right balance of energy density, physical size, and weight is a particular challenge to electric motorbike development. Currently (no pun intended), that’s one reason why electric scooters are much more commonplace than higher-powered motorcycle designs.
Those factors are just part of why New Zealand’s UBCO just announced a team-up with battery developer Chemix. Together, the pair says it’s working on developing and bringing cobalt-free lithium-ion battery technology to market. Once they’ve reached their high-energy goals, the plan is to swap these new batteries into existing UBCO electric bikes, as a direct swap for the batteries the company currently uses.
Getting better energy density is of course important, but UBCO and Chemix also say they’re concerned about reliance on cobalt for existing battery formulations. In a release, the pair writes that “Until now, cobalt has been a key ingredient in stabilizing high-energy battery chemistries. However, cobalt is a rare-earth mineral primarily mined adjacent to regions of the world that are considered conflict areas. The demand for this toxic ingredient has resulted in eutrophication, increased [greenhouse gas] emissions, and unethical mining practices. Existing Co-free battery chemistries, such as those based on iron, do not have sufficient energy density for high-performance, long-range vehicles.”
Sustainability, they say, is top of mind—and of course, being the first to develop a new battery technology wouldn’t be a bad move, either. To speed up the process, Chemix is utilizing artificial intelligence to enhance its research and development capabilities in nailing down the best possible chemical formulation.
“Chemix is using AI to develop battery chemistries similar to how AI has been applied to speed up drug development,” Chemix CEO and co-founder Dr. Kaixiang Lin said in a statement. “We have developed a powerful AI process that automatically screens and suggests new materials for testing, that dramatically accelerates the process of developing new battery designs. You can think of this as battery R&D on autopilot.”
When they’ve arrived at the correct formulation, UBCO says it will first use the new and improved cobalt-free batteries in its “upcoming premium performance trail models.” From there, it will create improved battery packs to outfit its pre-existing 2x2 models.
It’s not clear how long the two companies expect this process to take, but as with all evolving battery tech, we look forward to seeing how it all turns out.