Thin Film Battery Technology: Leveraging Semiconductor Science to Build Better Batteries

The energy storage and battery industry needs to learn more from the semiconductor industry. Lots of talk about current battery science progress revolves around battery chemistry, the chemical mix and crystal structure and construction of the anode/cathode/electrolyte composition.

I feel like battery tech is 20 years behind where semiconductor is. Why?

No idea why battery science appears so far behind current semiconductor technology. I attribute the lag to economic incentives: we’re always near a power grid, and oil and gas are already stable stored energy sources.

When you look at the technology, battery technology would benefit immensely from incorporating the science of semiconductors. It’s weird that it’s not.

Essentially battery manufacturing is a less refined process, but extremely similar steps, involving coating/deposition.

I feel battery technologists and manufacturers would benefit from incorporating semiconductor processes, specifically thin film deposition techniques (depositing atomic layers to build circuits, gates, etc via vapor deposition or epitaxial processes etc)

I just googled to see if this was a thing, and it is. Albeit, not commercial, yet.

Thin Film Batteries seem extremely promising.

The recent “single crystal cathode” patent by Tesla to eliminate structural cracks within the crystal structure made me think about water fabrication equipment OEMs who specialize in building atomic structures an atom or two thin with various deposition techniques.

Battery Cell Manufacturing Processes

  1. Receiving (warehouse/logistics)
  2. Electrode
    A. Mixing (slurry coating)
    B. Coating (extrusion booths coat metal (copper or aluminum) substrate with electrode slurry)
    C. Drying (electrode web dries in big ovens)
    D. Press (presses web to desired thickness)
    E. Sun Bake (cures electrode)
    Splitting (cuts from giant roll into pancakes)
    F. Stock Room (stores before winding)
  3. Winding (wind anode & cathode into a jelly roll and tab weld for cannister insertion/cell assembly- highly automated)
  4. Assembly
    A. Jelly Roll Inspection
    B. Bottom insulator inspection
    C. Can feeder
    D. Positioning Jig Turntable
    E. Can and Tab Cleaning
    F. Jelly Roll Insertion
    G. Anode Tab Welding
    H. Anode Weld Inspection
    I. Cathode Tab positioning
    J. Cab Tapering
    K. Tap inspector inspection
    L. Pre-treatment
    M. Grooving
    N. Internal Sealant Coat and Dry
    O. High voltage inspection
    P. Top Cap Welding
    Q. Electrolyte Filling and Sealing
    R. Wash and Dry
    S. Wash Jig Buffer
    T. Height adjustment/IR inspection
    U. Resin Coating
    V. Appearance Inspection/2D W. Barcode printing
    X. Tray Packing
    Y. Pre-charge inspection
  5. Formation
    A. Room Temp Aging (24 hrs)
    B. Charge/Discharge formation
    NG Removal Machine
    C. High Temp for 24 hours
    D. Charge/Discharge – cells discharged
    E. OCV/UIR for internal inspection
    F. High Temp (48 hrs)
    G. Room Temp (cool down)
    H. Delta V 1 – inspection (voltage reading from cells)
    I. Room temp aging (48 hrs)
    J. Delta V 2 – NG Cells removed/ NG gets pulled
    K. Straight to Cell Warehouse
    Visual Inspection
    L. Destacking
    M. Check cells for alignment
    N. Unloading
    I. Redo Section
    P. 2D barcode check
    Q. Side check
    R. Top/bottom check
    S. Loading arm back to trays
  6. Battery Pack Assembly

The recent “single crystal cathode” patent by Tesla to eliminate structural cracks within the crystal structure made me think about water fabrication equipment OEMs who specialize in building atomic structures an atom or two thin with various deposition techniques.

Semiconductor science began in the 1960’s and never stopped. It exploded in the 1980’s once deposition and etch and photolithography techniques began to streamline. Once they learned how to etch transistors into metal, they only limiting factor was manipulating light waves, and the size of those waves.

We had 130nm gates in 2000.

Now we have gates 3nm.

A silicon atom is .3nm.

I say this because the efficiency of computing and microprocessing is directly related to the precision of depositing and manipulating layers of atoms….

And this is exactly the same challenges that battery is dealing with now.

Except battery science appears to be in the Stone Age.

They are just painting atoms onto foil substrates with imprecise extrusion machines.

They are not precise, and they aren’t manipulating atoms. They aren’t building atomic crystal structures with the precision they desire, and which is currently being achieved by the semiconductor industry.

The crystal structure is critical for efficiency and power density.

Maxwells proposed Dry Cell is a big step in this direction, eliminating solvents and liquid electrolytes.

But they are still depositing these materials with gross imprecision.

Battery science and manufacturing need to leverage the established deposition techniques of the semiconductor process.

The integrity of the crystal structure is critical for electrical efficiency, power density, etc.

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