Current affairs: Horwin planning fast-charging ‘niobium-battery’ bike by 2024

Horwin CR6
Horwin CR6

The Brazilian arm of electric bike firm Horwin has inked a deal with niobium supplier CBMM to bring ultra-fast charging niobium batteries to the company’s bikes as soon as 2024.

Niobium is an element that’s promising big improvements to lithium-ion batteries, offering not only improved capacity but better stability, allowing faster recharging rates that could go a long way to eliminating the biggest hurdle to widespread electric bike adoption: range anxiety.

Two ideas are vying to solve that issue. One is battery-swapping, where a network is established to ensure that fully-charged, slot-in battery packs are always at hand, and the other is ultra-fast charging – which is preferable for longer[1]range machines with bigger, built-in batteries.

Niobium itself is a metal, sourced mainly in Brazil. It’s used as an additive to create high-grade steel alloys, adding strength and reducing weight, as well as appearing in superconductors used in MRI scanners.

Developing like Lightning

Recently, electric bike firm Lightning announced a deal with CBMM to use niobium to reduce the weight of some components. The Horwin deal, however, revolves around batteries developed by CBMM and Toshiba that use niobium titanium oxide (NTO) for their anodes.

NTO is being used in future generations of Toshiba’s ‘SCiB’ fast-charging lithium-ion batteries, replacing the lithium titanium oxide (LTO) anode material of the original versions. According to Toshiba, NTO offers roughly three times the theoretical volumetric capacity than LTO (measured in mAh per cubic centimetre) and promises to increase future SCiB battery’s energy density by 1.5 times.

The result for riders should be a battery that, when plugged into a powerful enough charger, can be replenished in just 10 minutes. Initially, the NTO batteries will appear in a prototype based on the Horwin CR6, which as standard has a 6.2kW motor and manages up to 150km on a charge.

A production version is expected soon afterwards. Horwin Brasil’s CEO, Pricilla Favero said: “With CBMM’s expertise and pioneering spirit, added to our highly skilled team in developing new solutions, the expectation is that the motorcycle with a niobium battery will be available in the Brazilian market as early as 2024.

The niobium battery promises 150km of range

“We are working so that soon anyone will be able to use an electric motorcycle with ultra-fast charge. In addition to this recharge differential, niobium batteries bring benefits in terms of safety and battery life, as they allow up to 20,000 charges under a relatively wide range, which alone is the greatest advance in recent times.”

Rogério Marques Ribas, manager of the CBMM Battery Program, said: “The partnership accelerates the application of ultra-fast recharge batteries with niobium in motorcycles as well.

“The use of niobium oxide in the anode of lithium-ion batteries provides special features for this component. Being a very stable element, it allows safer and more efficient operations. Furthermore, due to its more open crystal structure, which facilitates lithium intercalation, it allows a full recharge in less than ten minutes, without damaging the battery.”

Niobium battery – fast facts

  • Fast charging – NTO anodes can allow lithium-ion batteries to be safely recharged in as little as six minutes, making Horwin’s sub-10-minute charge target more than achievable
  • Energy density – Toshiba’s next-gen SCiB batteries, using niobium titanium oxide anodes, aim for 1.5 times more energy density. That translates to more range from the same size battery
  • Lightweight – Higher energy density means smaller, lighter batteries can be used with knock-on benefits to the rest of the bike’s design. Or firms could fill the same space and get longer range and more power
  • Lower cost – The promised long lifespan of NTO batteries, even when fast-charged, means they should never need replacing: 20,000 charges at 150km of range per charge adds up to 3 million kilometres
  • Long life – Existing SCiB batteries, with LTO anodes, already offer 20,000 charge/discharge cycles, and the future niobium versions promise the same durability. NTO anodes suffer less lithium metal deposition during ultra-fast charging (which can cause internal short-circuits) than conventional designs
Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis