Sung Heon Lee and I collaborated on the content in this post.
Although Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have received a lot of media attention in the past couple of years, they were first commercialized by Sony in 1991. Since then, these batteries have enabled many technological advances. Without it, our lives would look very different today. Li-ion batteries have shaped how we communicate and work – through mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops–and how we go about daily tasks–through portable consumer electronics, appliances, and power tools.
But Li-ion batteries are also increasingly being used to decarbonize the transport sector by replacing the internal combustion engine of traditional vehicles. Unlike combustion engines, electric powertrains do not pollute the air and do not emit CO2 at the point of use.
A Li-ion battery cell comprises three main parts: the anode, the cathode, and an electrolyte in the middle. Lithium batteries are particularly well-suited for mobile applications because of their high energy density. Compared to other batteries, more energy can be stored for the same weight. This fact is mainly because the anode is made almost entirely of lithium, the lightest metal on Earth. Even though the Li-ion battery technology was initially brought to market 30 years ago, there is still scope for technological innovation. Today, innovation targets five key priorities: improving storage capacity, reducing charging times, increasing cell life, improving battery safety, and reducing the cost of production.
Despite its multiple applications, the use of Li-ion batteries in electric vehicles (EVs) is the single largest source of demand growth, both today and in the next decades. As an example, we can examine the case of Tesla. Once the construction of all planned facilities is completed, Tesla’s annual demand for battery capacity is forecast to be about 120 GWh. This capacity is equivalent to producing about 2 million EVs every year to give a sense of scale.
If we take the five companies with the most ambitious sales targets—Toyota, VW, R-N-M, Tesla, Hyundai-Kia—we can see that sales of 15 million units are projected by 2025, up from less than a million in 2019. Since one electric vehicle requires about 60 kWh of battery capacity, the calculated battery capacity demand in 2025 will be around 900 GWh. Yet, the total battery production capacity in 2020 was less than 300 GWh. To keep up with such a surge in demand, companies that manufacture batteries today are making huge investments.
This growth will occur in mining, battery component manufacturing, and battery cell production from an automation standpoint. In the upstream mining operation, miners are challenged to ensure safer and more sustainable operations, with efficient water usage and minimal environmental hazards, improving reliability, and optimizing the process. Continuous asset monitoring helps the performance of the mining equipment to improve overall reliability.
In the midstream component manufacturing sector, the challenges are to improve quality and operational flexibility and ensure safety. Coriolis flowmeters can help ensure each ingredient is added precisely. DeltaV Distributed Control System Batch and Analytics can help control the process and reduce batch-to-batch variations. Corrosion and erosion monitoring can help ensure safety.
In downstream battery production, the main challenges are system integration, product optimization, and safety. Programmable automation control systems, including programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs), and safety controllers, can provide a complete solution with motors and motor-driven inverters that drive the conveyor belts. By providing the PLC, inverter, and motor together, there is an advantage in controlling the process with one integrated solution. In the packaging stage, excess heat can damage vulnerable parts of the battery. The Branson Ultrasonic metal welding solution minimizes the heat applied during welding while ensuring worker safety.
Automation technologies and solutions from Emerson will help companies upstream, midstream, and downstream across the battery value chain meet the demands for this energy transition.