Lithium-ion Battery Production: Smarter Fabs – Smaller Costs

Insights – Thursday, January 23, 2020

With e-mobility poised to become a mass market and the generation of renewable energy on course for further growth, the current capacities for the production of lithium-ion, or Li-Ion, battery cells are not going to be enough. As a result, new factories are slated for construction worldwide. Manufacturers will need smart and cost-effective fab design to deliver powerful, efficient products at competitive prices. This complex challenge calls for special expertise.

2020 will usher in a new era of battery cell production in Europe. According to the latest headlines, several countries plan to promote domestic manufacturing of battery cells. Several companies recently announced intentions to build their own battery manufacturing facilities. It will be interesting to see whether other automakers follow suit. Moreover, a string of Asian battery producers and Tesla have announced their desire to build up substantial manufacturing capacities overseas as well.

Growing battery demand

Accordingly, demand for Li-Ion batteries is set to rise dramatically, in turn leading to an increase in the need for cell manufacturing facilities. This trend is no longer a few years down the road. It is here today, and the developments are advancing at full speed, as confirmed in an energy storage monitoring study published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI.[1].

The study forecasts a mass market for electric cars by 2026. It also anticipates demand to stand at approximately 1,000 GWh by 2025, corresponding to roughly 100 gigafactories with a capacity of 10 GWh each.

The field of stationary energy storage systems, which are needed to connect renewable energy generation to public power grids as a stable and reliable source of electricity, is also set to grow.

Rising need for smart production concepts

While there could be technological revolutions in the production of battery cells, there are no concrete paradigm shifts on the horizon at the present time. Energy density will undoubtedly see further evolutionary development in the years ahead. Yet a fundamental, sweeping shift in manufacturing technology does not seem likely. Concepts for the manufacture of solid-state batteries are still far from being suited to mass production. Only those manufacturers that have an established supply chain, employ highly efficient production processes and make intelligent, use of cost-saving potential will be competitive worldwide. Future smart battery factories that have been planned consistently and systematically based on concrete costs, predefined schedules and quality standards right from the start — without any nasty surprises — can help manufacturers achieve the goal of global competitiveness.

The cost target is a total of roughly 100 euros per kilowatt hour per battery cell, provided manufacturers take advantage of all of the material factors at their fingertips, such as:

  • Optimized production processes
  • Efficient production equipment
  • Supply chain optimization
  • Constant technological advancement

But how much of an influence can factory planners exert on reducing costs in battery cell production?

  • Use of economies of scale
  • Optimized building concept and factory planning
  • Optimized logistics for large volumes of materials and personnel flow
  • Cost-effective dryrooms with minimal energy consumption for sustainable operation
  • Optimized safety and fire protection concept

In addition, industry 4.0 will be applied during the entire design and construction process using up to 5D BIM (Building Information Modeling).

Concept study on behalf of BMBF

The key role that factory design plays in the planning of efficient battery manufacturing facilities has been affirmed in a research project funded by the Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) involving Exyte and a variety of partners from a wide range of industries. Exyte[2] was responsible for factory and process design within the GIGA-LIB concept study. The project partners were VARTA, Manz, Thyssen Krupp System Engineering and the ZSW in Ulm, Germany. The study simulated various scenarios for assessing potential and the optimum production conditions.

One of the main findings of the project was that smart fab design can indeed effectively reduce costs and increase process reliability. However, a complete, fully coordinated concept for planning and realization is of the essence for achieving this goal.

Smart concepts for cost-efficient battery production

A wide range of components must be taken into account, starting with the choice of location. For example, what are the technical infrastructure and logistical conditions at a particular site? What about the availability and cost of raw materials? Is the location attractive for well-trained and qualified staff — and are there enough people to choose from in the local workforce? How about the tax situation? What do things look like when it comes to political stability and regulation? The more solidly researched the answers to such questions, the better the selection of location will be.

Still, the most important thing is that the factory concept is developed with an understanding of technology and processes — something that requires extensive expertise and practical know-how. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a full package, from the choice of location and the planning of the building to the technical infrastructure and construction of the factory.

Crucial factors for smart fab design:

  1. Floor area – economies of scale
  • The ratio between production space and total floor space is increasing
  • The cost of facility systems is not rising at the same pace as increases in capacity
  1. Equipment engineering – tool utility matrix validation
  • Peak and average consumption, diversity (simultaneity) factor
  • Benchmarking
  1. Industrial engineering – building concept
  • Supporting grid structure, floor loads
  • Size and design of ancillary spaces
  • Logistics concept
  1. Value engineering
  • Media consumption validation
  • Ancillary space needs
  • Safety and security concept
  • Dryroom concept
  • Energy footprint
  1. BIM (Building Information Modeling)
  • Industry 4.0 applied to the design & construction of battery factories
  • 5D BIM

Conclusion: The demand for factory planning expertise is also on the rise

The ability to design a Li-Ion battery production facility with high availability and yield as cost-effective as possible depends on a wide range of factors that are intricately intertwined.

Smart fab design for cost-efficient and viable battery cell production must take all these factors into account and bring them into line with each other to the greatest extent possible. Conventional building planning expertise quickly reaches its limits when faced with this difficult technological challenge. Manufacturers can achieve the best results when they rely on partners with special expertise and long-standing experience in the design and construction of high-tech facilities.

As a global leader in the design and construction of facilities for sophisticated and highly controlled production processes, Exyte is able to leverage valuable engineering expertise and provide manufacturers with comprehensive support, from the initial concept studies over the subsequent design steps and construction until the tool install and commissioning of finished Li-Ion battery factories.

[1] Lead market and lead supplier study “Lithium-ion batteries for electric mobility” 2018 – does Germany still have a chance?

[2] Still known as the M+W Group during the project.

Authors: Dr. Klaus Eberhardt | Technology Manager Exyte AG
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The ees International Magazine is specialized on the future-oriented market of electrical energy storage systems, not only from a technological-, but also a financial and application-oriented point-of-view. In cooperation with ees Global, the ees International Magazine informs the energy industry about current progress and the latest market innovations.

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