The Institute for Applied Materials - Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) conducts research that examines the production of novel materials for energy storage, such as for lithium ion batteries (LIBs) and post-lithium systems. A key area of interest is gaining a better understanding of material chemistry and design, and development of ceramic processes that will enable the creation of future-proof components and systems.

For example, one of IAM’s latest studies focused on structural aspects of the formation and voltage degradation of lithium- and manganese-rich layered oxides. The results of their work, which was rated among the top 50 publications in chemistry and materials sciences published in Nature Communications 2019, and systematically investigated the voltage decay of manganese-rich lithium insertion compounds and their structural and compositional dependence.

Even before Dr Binder — who is now Head of research group: Synthesis and Ceramic Powder Technology — joined the KIT (formerly Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe) in 1994, the institute was using two MOBILE MINOR®s, one of which is still active in various areas of research. A few years ago, they added another unit and, very recently, his team ordered two new MOBILE MINOR®s, one of which — the Jubilee MOBILE MINOR® — represents GEA’s 2500th sale to customers for R&D applications.

The new systems for the HEMF synthesis pilot plant will allow us to transfer synthesis strategies for promising battery materials from the laboratory to the pilot plant scale in order to manufacture and analyze large-sized battery cells from these novel materials." – Dr. Joachim R. Binder, Head of research group: Synthesis and Ceramic Powder Technology at IAM-ESS at KIT

Supporting HEMF battery materials research at KIT

The Helmholtz Energy Materials Foundry (HEMF) is a large-scale collaborative research and development platform dedicated to the synthesis of new and improved materials for energy conversion and storage applications. At KIT, a synthesis pilot plant for battery materials is being set up as part of HEMF project, so that battery research can now take place along the entire value chain at the KIT Battery Technology Center. 

For the evaluation of new or improved battery materials with respect to a potential use in a lithium ion battery,  sample masses in the range of few grams are enough; but, if a material exhibits promising electrochemical properties, its performance has to be validated with larger volumes. In order to manufacture large-sized lithium ion cells battery larger quantities of battery materials (up to 10 kg) are required and, at KIT, a medium-size synthesis plant is built up where the two MOBILE MINOR®s are used to produce the required battery materials. It performs the following tasks:

  • transfer from the small-scale laboratory synthesis to scalable processes
  • preparation of several materials to produce large-sized lithium ion battery cells
  • production of few selected materials for the fabrication of battery systems

The key requirements of the plant are to preserve the powder quality during scale-up and ensure reproducibility. The medium-size synthesis plant enables both a reliable process for material synthesis and a high degree of flexibility during material and process optimization. Currently, twelve motivated team members at IAM-ESS work in the synthesis and ceramic powder technology section to deliver application-oriented scientific breakthroughs.

To support this important work, GEA supplied the ceramics team with several MOBILE MINOR®s, an established and benchmark-setting drying technology that is ideal for research and development applications.
“The new systems for the HEMF synthesis pilot plant will allow us to transfer synthesis strategies for promising battery materials from the laboratory to the pilot plant scale in order to manufacture and analyze large-sized battery cells from these novel materials,” said Dr. Binder. In addition to these flexible, pilot-scale spray drying units, the section also employs further process steps, such as grinding, precipitation or calcination; in the near future, complete electrode production will also be implemented at KIT Battery Technology Center.

Besides the research for synthesis of novel electrode materials the scientist are looking at ferroelectrics materials for microwave applications to use in modern communication and information systems as well as in the field of printed electronics. Usually, one unit is used to spray dry the ferroelectric, barium strontium titanate (BST) materials whereas the others are utilized for lithium-ion or natrium-ion materials. Based on a long tradition of successfully using GEA spray drying equipment, the additional flexibility of the two new MOBILE MINOR®s was a game changer. If the HEMF project requires high capacity throughput, then the two new ones can be used in parallel.

The biggest challenge in this project was to evaluate together with the KIT team the pros and cons of the various GEA solutions for R&D activities." – Gunter Philipp, Sales Manager at GEA

“At the end, though, the combined flexibility of two independent systems won the race and finally allowed us to deliver the jubilee MOBILE MINOR® 2500 for R&D activities!” commented Gunter Philipp. Offering an improved design but maintaining the same compact footprint, the MM-100 spray dryer from GEA, equipped with the new and highly efficient cyclone CEE (Cyclone Extra Efficiency), is the newest addition to the MOBILE MINOR® range.

The newly developed cyclone CEE offers a higher separation efficiency, which both increases the available yield and reduces emissions. Installed in almost 2400 plants worldwide, the cross-application MOBILE MINOR® spray dryer is robust, reliable and versatile. Ideal for process scale-up applications, it is also easy to use, clean and move. The universal gas disperser for the rotary atomizer as well as the two-fluid nozzle can easily be exchanged with an optional low velocity gas disperser — which has a similar flow pattern to the DPH gas dispersers used in larger spray dryers — for nozzle atomization.

By nature, spray drying is a continuous process and is designed to offer both high productivity and uniform product quality. Spray drying is a technique preferred by a growing number of chemical and pharmaceutical companies to produce better materials, powders or even drugs. This ultrafast and gentle drying technology offers unique ways to define particle characteristics.

GEA offers a range of spray dryers designed specifically for R&D, product development and small volume production. The easy-to-operate MOBILE MINOR® uses an atomizer wheel for particle distribution whereas, for larger installations, the patented GEA Combi-Nozzle is used to produce consistently high and uniform product quality. Ceramic coatings or Ni, Co containment can be handled by this set up.

Whatever the activity, the composition of the various materials and the particle size of the sprayed powder needs to be precise and reproducible, enabling the researchers to compare and evaluate the various materials. “During our investigations, we’ve used several MOBILE MINOR®s to reproducibly produce homogenous precursors, structured materials or granulates for different applications, which has been significant to our tests and research so far,” added Dr Binder. Always looking to the future, the team is already working on post-lithium energy storage systems too. We’ll need to stay tuned to see what evolves from these exciting investigations.

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