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Improving Production, Safety and Reliability in Midstream Lithium Production

by , | Apr 5, 2022 | Pulp & Paper, Sustainability

Michael Machuca

Michael Machuca

Director Global Chemical Industry Flow Solutions Marketing

In our continuing series on the lithium supply chain from mining through battery production, we look at the midstream process where the battery cathode, anode and electrolytes are produced. We explored ways to improve production quality in a post, Improving Quality in Midstream Lithium Production. Today, we’ll look at production optimization, safety, and reliability.

One of the challenges expressed by lithium battery manufacturers is that they have to be fast and agile because each of their customers may have different formulations for the cathode, anode, and electrolyte material. Consequently, these manufacturers need to be able to reduce their transition times between batches to stay competitive with the frequent formula changes required in their production process.

Lithium battery manufacturing midstream production

Optimizing Production

They need to have automated processes that are flexible and easy to change. The control systems need to be flexible, but the measurement devices must also be able to handle the varying process conditions. Also, many of the formulations are proprietary.

As a result, these manufacturers need to ensure that the recipes are securely stored in the manufacturing system to avoid intellectual property theft. Emerson’s Programmable Automation Control Systems (PLC/PAC) enable automation of these processes to reduce cycle and transition times—enabling greater production. Secure control logic can hide proprietary formulations to prevent IP theft. Batch production can be optimized, and further automated using the DeltaV distributed control system (DCS).

Taking advantage of measurement best practices helps to ensure that the selected measurements can handle the process variability without the need for changing instruments, configuration or calibration. Eliminating these additional steps help to reduce transition times between batches, reduce cycle times, and increase throughput while ensuring the security of the recipes.

Ensuring Safety

Lithium batteries are considered green energy, but the manufacturing process is not environmentally friendly. It produces and uses lots of toxic chemicals in the process. So safety is of critical importance to all chemical facilities, especially in lithium battery manufacturing. Many of the materials used are toxic to humans or can result in chemical burns.

Hydrofluoric acid, sodium hydroxide, ammonia, and phosphorus trichloride are all chemicals used in lithium battery production. Many midstream manufacturers do not have insight into their process to detect and prevent an upset condition that may lead to an accident. Emerson can help by implementing automated safety instrumented systems that reduce response times to keep people safe and minimize emissions.

Measurement devices, including toxic gas and gas leak detection, can help people avoid being in harm’s way. Safety shower monitoring and location awareness reduce response times to any safety event. Also, using the correct materials of construction for valves can reduce any packing leaks—especially considering the corrosive materials. Knowing the correct position of on/off valves without having to send someone into the field to check can keep people out of harm’s way and prevent an incorrect valve lineup from creating a safety issue. SIL-rated safety measurement devices are needed to ensure manufacturers meet their process safety requirements.

Improving Reliability

Lithium battery production involves abrasive and corrosive materials that damage equipment, which can lead to unplanned downtime or abnormal wear of equipment. Many manufacturers do not have insight into their asset health and rely on reactive maintenance practices. They may not be using the most ideal materials of construction on their instruments and valves to ensure long life and reduce wear.

AMS Device Manager helps customers make informed field device and valve maintenance decisions based on real-time condition data. Valve and instrument diagnostics like Smart Meter Verification enable predictive approaches to maintenance needs reducing unplanned downtime.

Using the correct materials of construction can increase the time between maintenance events, and corrosion and erosion monitoring can predict when infrastructure may need replacement. With the Plantweb Optics platform, manufacturers can easily visualize and transform data into actionable information. Digital Twin and process simulation applications ensure processes are tested in a safe environment to run at optimal performance levels to help eliminate process excursions that damage equipment. These solutions can help reduce maintenance costs and downtime and minimize equipment damage.

Follow the links above to learn more about these technologies and how they can help you drive optimization, safety, and reliability improvements.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.