The auto manufacturer has partnered with the Canadian quantum technology company Xanadu on a multiyear research programme to improve the performance of quantum algorithms for simulating battery materials, while its new battery subsidiary PowerCo has established a production JV in Europe with the materials technology company Umicore.
Quantum computing is anticipated to expand research areas critical for building better batteries, with classical computation methods reaching their limits.
With the research programme, Volkswagen’s goal is to reduce the computational costs and accelerate adoption of quantum computers to develop battery materials that are safer, lighter and more cost effective.
“With its New Auto strategy, Volkswagen enters new territory, especially when it comes to exploring opportunities along the battery value chain,” says Dr Nikolai Ardey, head of Volkswagen Group Innovation.
“Next-generation high performance materials and electrochemical processes are key ingredients of this expedition.”
Over the last year, Volkswagen and Xanadu have engaged in multi-domain research across material science, computational chemistry, battery technologies and quantum algorithms that have set the foundation for the programme’s long-term research efforts.
The joint programme aims to tackle industry challenges in battery research by focusing on the development of advanced quantum algorithms for simulating battery materials that will be processed on Xanadu’s next generation fault-tolerant quantum computers.
The programme’s first output is a first estimation of the resources required to implement a quantum algorithm for simulating a realistic cathode material, dilithium iron silicate.
EV battery cathode materials
The JV with Umicore is focussed on precursor and cathode material production in Europe from 2025, with supply to PowerCo’s European battery cell factories.
The partners aim to produce by the end of the decade cathode materials and their precursors for 160GWh cell capacity per year, which compares to an annual production capacity capable of powering about 2.2 million full electric vehicles.
Cathode active materials are the key technological lever for battery performance and the biggest single contributor to overall battery cost.
“Cathode material is an indispensable strategic resource for battery production, accounting for roughly fifty percent of overall cell value,” comments Thomas Schmall, group board member for Technology at Volkswagen AG and chairman of the Supervisory Board of PowerCo.
“Immediate and long-term access to extensive capacity is thus a very clear competitive advantage.”
In addition to the cathode material production, the partners intend to collaborate on the sustainable sourcing of raw materials and at a later stage, elements of refining and battery recycling.