Towards the Sustainable Battery Production of the Future

Article By : Henry Claussnitzer

New, comprehensive automation concepts can help the battery industry become more efficient and extra competitive. These concepts are based on AI, smart robotics, and the latest vision technology...

To support the fast-growing e-mobility sector, energy transition, climate change and sustainability, all call for innovative technologies. In addition, to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, alternative drive concepts must be discovered. That’s why developments in battery manufacturing are of increasingly significant importance. But which batteries and manufacturing processes can meet the rising demand and strict requirements? How can manufacturers optimise plant sustainability, efficiency and quality while automating workflows? New, holistic automation concepts are of urgent significance, such as those based on AI and robotics. These concepts should also take into account the market requirements and the needs of policy makers and the battery industry. So, what are the trends and future approaches in battery production that can help European companies take the lead in energy storage for e-mobility?

Importance of sustainable battery production

Recent studies such as the “Global Top 100” report by consultancy firm Corporate Knights show that companies from Denmark, France and Finland have taken the lead in the top 100 of the most sustainable companies in the world. European manufacturers can and should follow suit to meet the increasing demand for innovative, high-performance, and reliable battery cell technology, while ensuring efficient and sustainable production. According to VDMA’s Roadmap for Battery Production, the European market will represent about 30 percent of the world market demand by 2030. Asian suppliers and the few European startups will not be able to meet this demand alone. Therefore, action is needed now. The European Commission’s 2030+ initiative aims to place Europe at the head of this race for the battery technologies of the future. The ultimate goal is the development and efficient production of safe and sustainable high-performance battery cells for electric vehicles, renewable energy storage and numerous other technologies such as robotics, medical technology, and aerospace.

Challenges in the battery industry

So much for the theory, because there are still hurdles to overcome, for example in the production of high-performance battery cells. Currently, only an estimated 70-90 percent of the total cell production can be used, while the rest have defects. Many batteries also fail when tested by the car manufacturer or integrator for their suitability for use. Battery manufacturers must aim to produce more sustainably and avoid waste. At the same time, they must meet the steadily growing quality requirements, as well as cost and competition pressure. Many countries in Europe need to find innovative solutions to the shortage of skilled workers and find flexible production solutions to meet changing consumer requirements. Meanwhile, users demand higher capacity, better quality, more safety and a longer service life for batteries, and the ability to drive longer trips without having to recharge electric vehicles.

How do cylindrical, prismatic and pouch battery cells measure up?

Not all batteries and production processes are created equal. Therefore, an important question is: what are the advantages of cylindrical, prismatic and pouch battery cells, and which applications are they suitable for? In the widely used cylindrical cells, the active layers are wrapped around the inner electrode. In pouch cells, on the other hand, the stacked layers are enclosed by a flexible outer foil, usually made of aluminum. This makes production costs of pouch battery cells expensive compared to the other two types. In all other areas, however, pouch batteries get high marks. Their thin and flat shape makes them easy to install in a wide variety of technologies and car models. Pouch batteries are also characterised by a particularly good heat dissipation and only a small increase in temperature at fast charge or discharge rates, whereas cylindrical or prismatic batteries can become very hot. Despite the higher production costs today, pouch batteries are best suited for use in many different scenarios in terms of reliability, heat resistance, and flexibility.

Current figures from VDMA underline the successful development of this market segment: by 2028, the pouch cell sector is expected to reach 1,000 GWh. In comparison, in 2017, it was only 100 GWh. Enormous factories are needed to produce such volumes. Experts suggest that 35 GWh of pouch cell capacity alone would require 35 production lines. AI combined with smart robotics and vision technology can help support this. Starting with predictive maintenance capabilities for efficient machine repairs, these technologies can also contribute to other areas of advanced process automation in the future.

Innovation in lithium-ion pouch battery cell production

European battery manufacturers need to excel in quality, more efficient production and optimised use of resources to distinguish themselves from the major Asian players. As e-mobility moves forward, more advanced battery technologies are being developed to ensure the reliability, safety, and operation of vehicles. Lithium-ion pouch batteries meet some of the most important current requirements in industry and automotive manufacturing. However, the production of pouch cells is also more complex and much more demanding than the production of cylindrical batteries. This, in turn, places special demands on production. Manufacturers are turning to AI to support their production processes. For example, AI can help optimise machine efficiency and ensure zero-defect production.

Teaming up AI, sensing, control, and robotics

While battery manufacturers must adapt to the constant state of change in the e-mobility market, they need production lines that can be adapted faster and more flexibly than before to meet the changing requirements. Concepts that combine AI, sensing, control, safety, and robotics into a single automation platform can help to fulfill all customer requirements for product quality and predictive maintenance while achieving important sustainability goals. In addition, support with integrated battery cell inspection solutions, as well as solutions for electrode and battery module manufacturing, can help to streamline testing and provide end-to-end traceability throughout the lifetime of the battery cell.

Sustainability sustained by technology

In order to be innovative, flexible and future-oriented, battery manufacturers and suppliers need a reliable partner that can provide them with powerful technology and sound advice from a single source. A holistic, AI-based solution can help manufacturers reduce waste. Combined with an intelligent warehouse system, supported by mobile robotics, manufacturers can further improve process efficiency and productivity. At the same time, battery cell quality – including capacity and battery life – should be sustainably covered by a production and lifecycle control solution and supported by an in-line inspection system. This solution must consider all steps, from production through to use and recycling. By implementing these technologies, companies take an important step towards the sustainable factory and battery production of the future.

This article was first published on EE Times Europe

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