Tech Insights

Precision Robotics Drives Manufacturing Method To Pure Positivity

May 22, 2024 by Nick St. John

Researchers created a battery development method using robotics to formulate and test ways to combine battery materials and reduce impurities. 

As researchers strive to improve battery performance metrics such as charging rate and capacity, they focus on battery technology and chemistries beyond the commonly used lithium-ion and nickel-cadmium materials. Some promising materials have improved performance, but current manufacturing methods introduce many impurities into these chemistries, negating their positive effects.

Scientists at the University of Michigan (U-M) have developed a production strategy that can drastically decrease the amount of impurities by using robotic tests on developed samples at the Samsung Advanced Materials Lab.

 

Robotics testing of battery materials.

Robotics testing of battery materials. Image used courtesy of University of Michigan

 

Novel Design Strategy

The search for improved battery chemistries has accelerated over the past two decades, according to Wenhao Sun, professor of Materials Science and Engineering at U-M. Sun said many materials have demonstrated better charging speed, stability, and capacity, but their designs are only concepts. They have not been manufactured because the process reduces the materials’ purity.

Currently, batteries are developed by mixing various oxides and putting them into a kiln to react with one another, ultimately creating the desired chemistry. However, these reactions do not occur simultaneously but in a cascade over time. This results in complex intermediate compounds that may be unable to react with each other well, leading to a decrease in chemical reactions from step to step. The process introduces high impurities, hindering battery performance.

The U-M team slightly altered their design strategy to help alleviate this effect. They worked with only two ingredients at once, which allowed them to create unstable intermediates that could completely react with the other ingredients. This method resulted in lower impurities in the materials.

 

Robotics-Based Testing

To test the process's validity, the U-M team collaborated with Samsung’s Advanced Materials Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The fully automated robotics lab can synthesize up to 24 battery materials in only three days, allowing U-M to test 35 current and next-generation chemistries.

 

Video used courtesy of University of Michigan

 

The robotic arms handle and manufacture each material, while the system measures and records all test data into a single database for researchers to reference. From these results, the team saw impurities decrease by up to 80% using this novel method. Six materials could only be made with U-M’s new recipes.

The robotics determined both successful and unsuccessful battery material recipes.

 

Robotics and Battery Research

Using Samsung’s Advanced Materials Lab, the U-M team showed its design strategy helped form more reliable, higher-performance battery chemistries. They also demonstrated that an automated robotics test center is vital to large-scale battery testing. Their work could enable engineers to manufacture battery chemistries they couldn’t previously and to test promising materials quickly and efficiently.