Battery Materials Processors Are Supercharging the Market

The secret is strategic feedstock manipulation through advanced processing systems.

Increasing pressure from legislative and environmental efforts is pushing drivers to change from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) to electric vehicles (EVs). The high standards of these customers have the manufacturers of batteries struggling to keep up. Advanced battery materials such as finely ground, ultra-pure lithium compounds and spheronized, dedusted anode compounds are at the root of efforts to meet constantly increasing battery requirements.

Primary areas where battery requirements are increasing are the need to be smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more resilient. Partnering with the right materials processing equipment supplier helps to solve these challenges.

CONFRONTING KEY CHALLENGES

The end use in electric vehicles is a challenging environment. The battery must fit in a small and mobile platform with exceptional performance to meet the demands of the drivers, who are used to this from combustion engine cars. Compared to what was historically available from EVs, new converts to EVs want higher-capacity and longer-life batteries. They want batteries that charge faster and hold more energy so they can drive farther. This puts pressure on the battery manufacturers, who need to make their products as small and compact as possible while increasing energy density.

As the requirements from end users and battery manufacturers are moving up the supply chain, they eventually reach the battery material producers. The material producers must manipulate their products to produce these gains. With specifications and requirements becoming even more challenging, they require purer products, tighter particle size distributions, and rounder particles with higher density. The equipment within the material factory influences the ability to meet these requirements.

ADVANTAGES OF PURPOSEBUILT, CUSTOMIZABLE SYSTEMS

Specialized processing equipment is needed to produce the materials that go into batteries. The best systems are tailored to the producer’s exact application. For example, the cathode and anode are utilized as coatings on films, and the powders have specifications that allow both the mechanical and electrical properties needed. Specifications such as narrow particle size distributions and high degrees of roundness are key. The tailored systems are designed around each customer’s material and those specifications will enable the material producer to obtain these properties.

Customization examples include dedusting systems for finely micronized particles, equipment materials of construction for proper wear protection, and implementing the equipment in a closed-loop, tightly controlled system.

Dedusting systems remove the ultra-fines generated during micronization. Removal of dust (ultra-fine particles) without removing too much of the properly sized material can increase the energy density by allowing for more powder to be packed in the battery, and the battery to be smaller and lighter. Performing this task while limiting contamination and keeping yield high are the selling points of a well-designed, purpose-built system.

Diverse and comprehensive wear protection options are another customization candidate. Using ceramic and/or polyurethane coatings or other wear-resistant coatings in the fabrication of equipment helps to reduce wear, increase component life, and improve system operation and uptime. Additionally, with this fabrication, the customer will have fewer parts per million (ppm) of metal pickup.

More complex solutions may also be required, such as implementing materials processing equipment in a closed-loop system. These systems recycle the gas, allowing processing with an inert gas rather than just air. A properly designed system will limit oxygen ingress and inert gas leakage, providing high product quality and limiting inert gas consumption. Such solutions require a great deal of equipment and process expertise. One provider’s equipment may produce milled material that looks the same, but a customized, high-end solution would operate better based on experience gained by the implementer over many years.

WHY PARTNER WITH EQUIPMENT PROS?

Partnering with specialists in advanced materials processing systems allows battery materials manufacturers to better keep up with dynamically evolving demands. It also avoids the high costs and skilled labor requirements of developing complex systems internally.

An example is Hosokawa Micron Powder Systems (www.on-hosokawa.com), which offers a variety of technologies that are used in the production of lithium-ion batteries. Its expertise and global footprint were established through 100 years of experience developing equipment for processing powders, which perform with high efficiency and minimal downtime for many years. Distinctive services, equipment, and systems provide a complete solution.

Standout services:

• Full system process expertise: Tailored, highly efficient systems are designed and engineered by experts in both the technologies and processes. Solutions are based on the customer’s unique materials, goals, and specifications.

• Test centers: Hosokawa-built systems can be validated by running the customer’s materials through the system at a test center. The customer provided material will be processed to the customer’s specifications. This service is a strongly recommended option, though, for customers wanting a process guarantee, it is required to ensure the equipment will meet expectations.

• Analytical laboratory: The analytical laboratory goes hand in hand with the test center. When a product is processed in a test center, particle size and density analyses of the samples produced are conducted in the lab to ensure compliance to the specification. This ensures the machine will perform as expected for the customer.

• Engineering services: Extensive project, mechanical, electrical, and controls engineering experience has been accumulated by developing and deploying materials processing machines in different kinds of factories all over the world. New application design and engineering are thus met with efficiency and effectiveness.

• Aftermarket services: Customers can order their spare parts directly through Hosokawa and consult on what spare parts are needed. Service engineers are available to install, troubleshoot, and provide additional training on site.

• Contract manufacturing: Hosokawa can process material on a contract basis for customers, bridging the gap until equipment can be purchased or is ready. It is also useful for customers working to obtain large quantities of material for testing.

Available small-scale equipment:

• Picoline: This benchtop lab unit manufactured by Hosokawa is beneficial to customers who want to process small samples in their own laboratory. It can grind and classify (dedust) anywhere from a few grams to about 100 grams of sample at a time to support internal testing and analysis.

• Multiprocessing unit: This lab or very small pilot plant unit can process samples up to about 10-20 pounds at a time, providing customers with an analogous process to what will be produced on their full-size equipment. Running samples for internal testing or downstream process testing indicates how it will perform in large-scale environments.

Large production systems:

• Micronization: Sophisticated size reduction systems and powder processing solutions are available to serve even the most unique milling and micronization applications, ensuring the intended particle size and material performance.

• Spheronization: Rounding of particles with spheronization systems changes particle morphology, turning flakes into potato-shapes up to and including nearly spherical particles at narrow particle size distribution.

• Dedusting: Dedusting systems, often used in line with mills and spheronization equipment, remove ultra-fine particles. Sharp cut points and high yield give the best results.

• Particle coating: High and ultrahigh shear powder blenders are used to coat powders and embed with additives and homogenize, thus decreasing additive loading and allowing for optimal downstream processing.

DIFFERENTIATED SOLUTIONS

Battery materials processing is a hot market facing ever-increasing requirements. Materials processors striving to meet the demands can turn to advanced equipment providers with the expertise to develop quality custom-designed systems, accompanied by value added services. Partnering delivers the flexibility and agility to meet distinctive needs with differentiated solutions, backed by a continuing commitment to helping the customer succeed. Working together, lithium-ion battery performance, efficiency, and service life will continue improving to meet the needs of the day.

By Sheila Kennedy, CMRP, Contributing Editor of Chemical Processing.

As appeared in Chemical Special Report: Battery Materials eBook, November 2023

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