From Mine to Line through End of Life, How Technology is Optimizing Battery Production

The battery industry is experiencing a seismic shift as demand for renewable energy solutions increases. With electric vehicle (EV) sales expected to double from 2023 to 2027, reaching 31.6 million units, and shortages of cobalt and lithium expected through 2027, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights, innovation is necessary.

There is a growing demand for batteries and the need to adhere to more sustainable manufacturing processes. In fact, according to McKinsey & Co., more than 5 terawatt hours (TWh) per year of gigafactory capacity will be required globally by 2030. Thus, battery manufacturers are under intense pressure to scale rapidly and sustainably without compromising product quality and reliability.


However, scaling up production at a rapid pace presents its own set of hurdles. This surge in demand coupled with stringent quality standards has paved the way for revolutionary advancements in battery production technology to help manufacturers tackle these challenges. Making affordable batteries that pack significant power, last longer, charge faster, and keep us safer are all top goals.

High-quality batteries are reliant on quality processes and analytical solutions at every step of the battery materials value chain: from extracting raw materials, such as lithium and cobalt, from mines to ensuring the quality and safety of battery cell production, the mine-to-line journey demands more advanced quality control to monitor product quality attributes and impurities at lower and lower levels within the manufacturing process.

Want to learn more about innovations in battery technology and impacts for the energy storage sector? Those topics, along with much more insight and information about power generation and the electricity sector, will be part of the Experience POWER event scheduled for Oct. 9-11, 2024, in Orlando, Florida. Register today!

Realtime or near-realtime measurement systems are becoming necessary as quality control laboratories struggle under the growing volume of daily samples. The industry is looking to inline analytics including rheology, XRF and Raman spectroscopy to ensure the material composition remain within tight specifications as it flows through the manufacturing process. Innovations in process analyzers are helping manufacturers maintain the quality and safety of their lithium-ion batteries while maximizing productivity and process efficiency.

Moving Faster on the Path to Innovation with R&D

Battery innovation starts with rigorous research and development, and manufacturers are constantly looking to explore new materials and designs to enhance battery performance and longevity. To expedite this process, they are applying technology, including Electron Microscopy (EM), surface analysis techniques (XPS, EDS) and spectroscopy (Raman, FTIR), to drive results. Specifically, they are looking for unique material insights, investigating candidate materials and turning the analytical data collected into faster process decisions.

Kyle D’Silva

In addition to exploring the new and the novel, battery manufacturers are also investing in research to understand the causes of battery failure and developing new solutions to mitigate these risks. It is only after the R&D stage has been thoroughly conducted that manufacturers turn to securing the raw materials for production and bringing their new or upgraded innovations to life.

Optimizing Mining Operation Processes

Advanced mining techniques for extracting raw materials, including lithium, cobalt, and nickel, can be resource-intensive and environmentally damaging. There is a critical need for battery manufacturers to implement robust and high-availability systems that work reliably in harsh environments while also delivering the information needed to maximize efficiency and drive up throughput.

To address these challenges, many manufacturers are taking their technology to the next level by optimizing their operations with XRF and XRD spectroscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, handheld XRF analysis, PGNAA elemental analysis, and bulk ore sorting. These innovations are pivotal to accelerating mining and mineral processing, raw material QC, and production by providing real-time elemental composition analysis of bulk materials and minimizing energy consumption.

Quality Assurance with a Critical Focus on Catching Defects

In addition to optimizing material categorization at the mines, manufacturers are focused on minimizing defects and maintaining tight specifications throughout the entire battery production process. Both partly assembled and complete batteries require examination and a robust approach with 100% measurement of the finished product is recommended – meaning a statistically meaningful proportion of the product flow is at the minimum requirement. During the production process, cell manufacturing scrap is as high as 30% when a new battery factory launches, according to McKinsey & Co. This causes significant material wastage and can heavily contribute to environmental concerns.

By identifying and rectifying defects at the earliest stage possible, manufacturers can minimize scrap rates and improve overall production efficiency. For this reason, manufacturers are turning to new technologies, including X-ray source inspection and process Raman spectroscopy, to help detect defects early and often in the production process. For example, X-ray sources can be used to detect misaligned components, particulate contamination and weld defects in both at-line and in-line inspection, while Raman spectroscopy is relevant to cathode coating detection and can verify the absence of cross-contamination from equipment such as the coating machine rollers.

In-line metrology solutions are also essential as they offer real-time and continuous measurement and early defect detection during the electrode coating process, which is vital for battery performance and functionality. Non-uniform coatings on the electrode with even small defects significantly compromise performance characteristics, reliability and safety of the battery. New metrology innovations such as in-line mass profilometry are enabling manufacturers to inspect and measure 100% of their electrode coatings, whereas previously they were able to inspect <5% of the surface. This means they are catching defects early in the process that had previously gone undetected; improving product quality whilst reducing scrap.

Closing the Loop with Sustainable Battery Recycling

As demand surges, the importance of sustainable end-of-life solutions cannot be overstated. Currently, most recycling efforts in the battery industry are insufficient, with an alarming 50% scrap rate on average in Europe and North America. There are currently no wide-scale systems in place to collect and process this scrap, so potentially valuable materials that could be reused are instead sitting in landfills. Within the decade, large-scale recycling and processes for rescuing previously wasted material will become crucial due to the sheer volume of lithium-ion batteries that will be in use from cars to buildings to traditional electronics.

XRF and XRD spectroscopy are being put to work to recover valuable materials from spent batteries and minimize waste. They are helping to create a more circular economy for battery materials. In particular, Raman spectroscopy allows manufacturers to obtain critical insights in a matter of seconds and have real-time control over hydrometallurgical conversions of essential battery elements, including lithium, manganese, cobalt, and more.

Navigating the Evolving Landscape & Growing Demand

As the demand for clean energy solutions continues to rise, manufacturers must adapt to meet evolving market dynamics and explore technological advancements to stay ahead of competitors. The technologies mentioned in this article are already making a meaningful difference in supporting and strengthening activities across the battery manufacturing lifecycle. In fact, they are becoming pivotal with influence ranging from the researchers developing the next generation of battery technology to the battery materials producers looking to achieve greater efficiency while leaving a smaller environmental footprint.

In this way, every facet of battery production is changing with technologies advancing the entire production lifecycle. From mine to line and even through end-of-life handling, the journey toward a greener future is powered by innovation, collaboration, and a relentless commitment to excellence. These core technologies are just the start.

Kyle D’Silva is director of Clean Energy for Analytical Instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

SHARE this article