Battle of the battery formats

Battle of the battery formats

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

The company spun out of research at Imperial College London seven years ago into the cause of hazardous explosions in batteries, such as those in the Samsung Note 7. Addionics was formed in Tel Aviv in 2018 and has been developing a ‘smart 3D electrode’ technology that can be used to replace the metal foil in existing batteries but also in the next generation of solid state batteries.

It is this flexibility that is key, Moshiel Biton, CEO and co-founder of Addionics tells eeNews Power.

“We don’t need to take a side in this race and there are lots of companies competing with each other with their technologies,” he said. “We have decided to bet on the battery race but not on a specific horse, and this gives us the opportunity. We are going to wait and see the trend – no one knows what will happen in the future.

“Conventional Lithium ion batteries are here to stay and any adoption of a new technology whether its silicon or solid state will be gradual. There is also still room for improvement and what we are doing is a good example of how we can improve the current chemistries and its future proof. We are working with silicon with the highest loading and areal capacity and we are building the next generation of solid state batteries.”

But the technology also opens up the use of older battery chemistries such as lithium iron phosphate (LFP) with higher energy density and faster charging.

“With the negativity around the production of cobalt the need to eliminate cobalt is much bigger, and there is also the need to remove expensive nickel, so LFP is cost effective,” he said. “While it suffers from low energy it has became relevant again as a result of market forces. For example you have Tesla and now  VW basing fleets of vehicles on LFP technology.”

“Our projection is we can to increase energy density by 25 to 30 percent and reduce the internal resistance to produce more power by 86 per cent which also allows fast charging,” he said.

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“There is a 2D metal foil in every battery and what we are doing is changing the status quo of this component and using smart 3D current electrodes to create more real estate with more surface area,” he said. “On top of the 2D foil there is the active material and we open the structure so that the current is distributed evenly and that allows higher current density and lower resistance. We can Increase the thickness of the electrode and also remove the tradeoff with mechanical stability.”

“From an engineering point of view you can get more energy from a pouch cell than cylindrical but the is not the standardisation of pouch cells like there is with 1860 or 4570 cylindrical cells. That’s a huge problem as you don’t want to rely on one supplier but this can be tackled with standardisation,” he said.

“Pouch cells have mechanical and thermal issues with expansion and gas release, while the cylindrical cell can avoid this and the space in the cylindrical cell can be used for cooling. But, and it’s a big but, what if we can bring the same mechanical and thermal performance as the cylindrical cell, then the pouch cell is more attractive. So we saw the need to focus on a specific format and optimise that. The market is so huge there will be enough room for each type.”

He points out that laptops and smartphones have moved away from cylindrical cells to adopt pouch cells and now conformal batteries that fit into the available space rather than a fixed form factor.

“The future is more like structural batteries that are not limited by those formats,” said Biton. “Today you are building the device around the battery as you are limited by the power and dimensions. Instead you can put the battery wherever there is space.”

“I think there is more room for flexibility with the pouch cell as you can create blocks of power more easily and the pouch is lighter weight so in a smart watch for instance that needs high volumetric energy.”

The company is pitching itself to traditional metal companies that are supplying large scale battery makers with metal foil but also plans to set up its own manufacturing on a more local basis close to battery gigafactories.

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Next: Projects, fundraising and AI

Addionics has so far raised over $7m from Israeli investor Next Gear Ventures with grants from agencies Innovate UK, Horizon 2020 in Europe and BIRD Energy in the US.

For example it is working with the Centre of Process Innovation (CPI) and WMG at the University of Warwick in the UK on a project called Project STELLAR (Smart Three-dimensional ELectrode Lithium-ion batteries with Automated Robotics).

“The project will leverage the latest advancements in manufacturing automation and artificial intelligence to enable a more resilient battery supply for the U.K. and beyond,” said Biton.

The project is focused on automating the fabrication of high-performance, automotive-grade batteries with Smart 3D Electrodes while reducing capital expenses, production timelines and battery costs. AI algorithms and modelling will be used to design 3D current collector geometries that address the thermal, energy density and mechanical challenges that still plague today’s state-of-the-art batteries.

This enables vertical integration into the cell manufacturing process by tailoring batteries for specific types of vehicles. As a result, fast charging times and increased energy density and power density can all be engineered before fabrication.

Partner CPI will help scale up the fabrication of 3D Electrode designs with optimal ink formulations using state-of-the-art robotic systems for rapid formulation and screening. The application of AI will create batteries with optimized electrode geometries, while speeding up development cycles and eliminating costly manufacturing processes that traditionally require multiple iterations for optimum structure and ink creation. Manufacturing will be carried out by WMG, which will produce and evaluate pouch cells using the technology from the project.

This is allows a ‘drop-in’ replacement where the Smart 3D Electrodes can be supplied to a variety of facilities. This will save time and cost from the present manufacturing chain with the added environmental benefit of battery cells with longer lifetimes.

“What we are replacing is the metal foil from legacy metal companies and we are in discussions with those companies,” he said. “The way they are trying to get ahead is to be flexible with location for more flexible logistics, and we are building a differentiating component,” he added.

“We can create joint ventures with metal companies or do it by ourselves. In the next two years we need to prove the process and then the options are available to us. At the moment we are partnering with the end user and building protypes, and the ghe goal is to partner with giant metal producers.”

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