As we hurtle towards our carbon neutral targets and pressure increases for industries to adapt to a more sustainable future, Labman’s involvement in battery technologies is inevitably growing fast.
Since large scale battery use in fundamental industries is in the relatively early stages, there is still a large focus on battery research, testing and development. As part of Labman’s pending collaboration with Cellerate, a Manchester based company who specialise in automating battery assembly and R&D, we hope to develop more automated systems for the battery space.
Richard Fields, CEO of Cellerate (and former Labman employee!) told us about a system he is developing which automates battery cell assembly. Currently battery test cells are assembled manually which is extremely time consuming, low-throughput and imprecise. Cellerate’s compact machine builds and seals test cells, providing validated data so the alignment of battery components can be quantified. The system also enables imaging of the electrodes, anodes and cathodes, and it checks for defects on the surface, cracks and deformation of the material. The compact machine fits inside a glove box antechamber which saves a host of cost and time.
An increased demand for automating battery R&D processes is also evident in the recent interest in Labman’s TIDAS – a system which automates and standardises the Hegman gauge test. A Hegman gauge is a key piece of kit in laboratories which are formulating for battery production.
TIDAS automates the manual Hegman test and provides objective values for particle size and dispersion. In a recent knowledge exchange with Richard, we learnt about how a thinner, more consistent cathode material creates the most effective charge. Agglomerates, or bad dispersions will result in non-uniform power properties, and a greater potential for failure points. TIDAS is a compact bench top system which can provide essential validated data for fundamental R&D stages of battery formulations, but also provide a key step in quality control for full scale production.
Formulating battery substances
You might remember, in late 2020 we designed, built and delivered a huge Formulation System with integrated glove box to CPI’s Sedgefield site. CPI help companies accelerate the development of materials, products and processes. A lot of their work focusses on innovating for a sustainable future, the Formulation System provided a range of automation tools to enable formulation for various industries – especially, the next generation of battery technology.
The glove box integrated into the system allowed Lynn Donlon, Principal Scientist for high-throughput programmes, and her team to handle hazardous battery materials and nano materials safely. The glove box module was designed to support formulation of inks, adhesives and battery products and has proven itself to be extremely versatile. Dispensing accurately was also a challenge so Labman’s system provided a range of custom-built dispensers, designed to manage challenging viscous liquids and slurries.
Tony Jackson, Director of Formulation at CPI talked about their new capability for handling battery materials, and said:
“[it] is a strategically important area for CPI to support the UK’s 2030/2035 targets for increased electric vehicle uptake”.
Britishvolt ‘Gigaplant’ coming to our area
Britishvolt are manufacturers of sustainable, low-carbon batteries with the aim of accelerating the transition to an electrified society. And is it any surprise that their key focus is on batteries for electric vehicles.
Planning for a full-scale Britishvolt Gigaplant has been passed at a site which is practically on our doorstep in Northumberland. The site signifies a positive step forward for the local area, as it will be built at the coal store for the former Blyth Power Station. The entire area embodies the transition to a low carbon future, as it is located next to an abundance of renewable energy.
Their website states that they will be implementing and developing the latest advances in cell manufacturing techniques, driving down costs and wasted time and energy. Very exciting news for our local area.
Labman’s partnership for automation with Cellerate, and the growing demand for innovating battery testing and development in the area, can only mean great things. Richard hopes to build his business in the direction of custom cell fabrication, making test cells a viable stage in innovating battery technologies. Automating assembly, formulation and validation of test cells will accelerate the technology transfer from fundamental research to production scale.
If you are interested in automating any part of a battery production process or have any questions about our involvement in battery technologies, please don’t hesitate to contact us. But for now, we look forward to simply playing a small part in the transition to a carbon zero future.