What’s The Buzz At The Battery Show?

Emerging battery cell chemistries call for test systems with the flexibility and readiness to adapt to changes.


Hwee Yng Yeo catches up with Christian Loew, Keysight’s solution manager for battery pack and module test, to find out what was abuzz on the floor of The Battery Show in Stuttgart recently.

Hwee Yng: Christian, could you tell us what was the main buzz at The Battery Show this year?

Christian: There were two topics topping the buzz list at the show – on the R&D side, new sodium ion cell chemistries are certainly getting many cell developers excited. On the production side, there was very keen interest on improving efficiencies across various points of the gigafactory process.

Hwee Yng: Let’s start upstream with the R&D interest. Tell us more about sodium ion cells. As an element, Sodium (Na) is more abundant than Lithium (Li), so that’s both promising and exciting for battery cell developers. Does the Na-ion cell require different design and test methods?

Christian: No, not really. The beauty of sodium ion cells is that the way we can produce them is very similar to how we produce Li-ion cells. From a testing viewpoint, it’s also quite similar to what we see in the electrical characterization of Li-ion cells. The voltage levels and charge-discharge responses are comparable, so we can do a “copy-paste” in terms of testing even though we are working with a new kind of cell chemistry, so this is very nice.

Hwee Yng: So how mature is the Na-ion cell as an alternative to the industry de-facto Li-ion cell for the electric vehicle industry?

Christian: Well, early research started a couple of years ago, so it’s not completely new. Research labs were expecting Na-ion cells to take a longer time to market, but companies like CATL have announced that their first Na-ion battery is production-ready and will be powering new EV Models.

However, it’s a new technology and the next step would be testing them for broader applications, like how they will perform in heavy transport vehicles, aircraft, home battery energy storage systems (BESS), industrial batteries, etc.

Hwee Yng: What about solid-state batteries? Will they become as commonplace as solid-state hard drives are today?

Christian: Well, the road to solid-state batteries is like the Holy Grail for battery developers. The test requirements for solid-state batteries will be different as, for example, their behaviors such as voltage responses to changing temperatures will be very different. With current battery technology, we conduct a lot of electrical testing combined with climatic and temperature changes, because the current batteries are very sensitive to environmental conditions. With solid-state, this will no longer be required to such an extent, due to the lower sensitivity for temperature changes. With the first generation of solid-state batteries though, we will see a higher demand for more rigorous performance and life-cycle testing since this is a new technology.

Hwee Yng: Let’s move to the other exciting buzz around gigafactories. Could you share what the broad battery cell manufacturing industry is concerned about?

Christian: Certainly. I had a chance to interact with folks from the global gigafactory industry, and their common concern is how to make the production and testing efficient for a broad-market setup. People are also concerned about how to future-proof investments in equipment for a market that’s growing so fast. They don’t want to have a system they can only use to test one particular cell setup. They want to have systems that have the flexibility and readiness to adapt to changes that will come in two to five years, even though they may not have visibility on what these changes are right now.

However, at the same time, a short delivery time is needed to meet the demand now. This means they need to consider different aspects, from early setup of production lines, to making each step of the process more efficient and also testing the end results. The companies that can ramp up their facilities faster will be the ones that can take a bigger market share. It’s not about having the very best setup, but how fast you can be when it comes to time-to-market.

Hwee Yng: So how can Keysight play a role in these exciting developments?

Christian: We are very strong in R&D for battery development, and we can help our customers with integrated solutions for cell testing, or systems that can bridge the gap between cells to modules, and modules to packs. In production, we can speed up the quality assurance and end-of-line test with solutions like the patented self-discharge measurement and budget-friendly cell formation / cycling solutions with high channel counts.

Hwee Yng: Are there some takeaways that you can share about where the battery industry is headed?

Christian: Yes indeed. I see four key takeaways: How do we continue to achieve even longer ranges, improved safety, sustainability, and lower costs?

Let’s look at how to have batteries with longer ranges, or let me rephrase that to power density. Power density could come in two flavors: weight and volume. Either we can get more power per kg or per m³. For different applications, one or the other is more crucial. In vehicles, space is limited, and heavier weight limits the performance. So the question: “How do we increase the electric vehicle’s driving range?” is actually a question about optimization.

The second aspect is safety. That’s more vital than ever as we work with new cell chemistries. Over the battery’s lifespan, we must ensure the battery performs safely, and doesn’t cause any issues, as that helps build trust in the technology.

And when you couple longer ranges with safety, you get the third aspect: ensuring sustainability. Batteries with longer ranges and which have a longer life cycle will mean the industry as a whole can really consume fewer resources. It’s the same with having a smartphone where the battery lasts five years or beyond, versus one that dies within a year of usage.

This leads us to the fourth aspect – lower development and production costs. Whether you are developing new cell chemistries for silicon anode to enable longer ranges or using graphene technology to improve capacity and charging time, you need a test system that is both very fast and versatile in order to handle higher charging currents and more dynamic responses.

Hwee Yng: Talk about a dynamic industry – and the innovations powering our cause to build better batteries faster!

Christian: Indeed! And personally, I think fostering trust through better testing capabilities is key to sustainable success, whether batteries are going into small city cars, or super-performance sports cars, or being used in more home battery energy storage systems to buffer our power grids as more distributed energy resources are turned on in the coming years.

Missed The Battery Show 2023? Catch up online with Keysight to build better batteries faster!

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