Lithium Ion Battery Materials and Solid-liquid Separation Safety

In the many lithium ion battery (LIB) plants that I have visited, one critical area of concern is solid-liquid separation safety in manual operations.  After all, a LIB is, in reality, a small chemical plant.  The detailed structure is as follows:

Figure 1.  Structure diagrams of LIBs . a) Main components, b) Internal structure and c) Structure of cathode materials and Al foil (Yellow coating represents PVDF film).   Reproduced from Global Challenges 2023, 7, 2200237, © 2023 The Authors.  Global Challenges published by Wiley-VCH GmbH. 


Operators and process engineers must be experts in all the areas of the LIB life cycle to safely produce the battery materials and chemicals.  The work begins with mining from spodumene and clays or extraction from ponds and geothermal reservoirs.  Continuing, anode and cathode materials are produced as well as the electrolytes.  Later, after the LIBs are manufactured, a circular approach takes into consideration the production scrap and end-of-life (EOL) batteries for recycling.  Recycling includes the hydrometallurgical processes to produce recycled battery-grade materials.

In each step above, the list of chemicals to manufacture as well as recycle is long and complex.  The process also involves other solids and solvents for reactions / precipitation, purification, and drying.  Safety is a priority at every stage.

Keeping LIB Processes Safe with New Solid-Liquid Separation Technology

Courtesy: Roxia. Learn more!

Always looking for new ways to help clients, I have recently encountered an improved chamber filter press.  Roxia’s Smart Filter Press offers full containment and continuous automated operation with improved operator safety.

Full Containment

The “fully-enclosed” design of the Smart Filter Press (SFP) eliminates operator exposure to solvents and solids during manufacturing.  The plate stack is leak-proof due to o-ring seals between the plates and pressure tested to confirm the sealing.  A ventilated housing fully encloses the entire plate stack and adds additional protection when the filter discharges the cake.  The housing can be connected to a gas outlet for a negative pressure operation to pull away solvents or condensation during higher temperature processes.

Continuous Automated Operation

To begin, before every cycle, plate pressure tightness is tested as well as the condition of the membranes.  The continuous pressure differential is also monitored during solid-liquid filtration, cake washing and squeezing/blowing.  Finally, for cake discharge, plate shaking, and air pressure are used, from behind the cloth to gently dislodge the cake.  A cake conveyor or container can be included as well to remove the cake from the enclosure without opening.

Operator Safety

Roxia’s industrial filter is not only designed with many mechanical safeties, but also features digital instrumentation for “smart” operation. The SFP has many diagnostic tools for slurry and filtrate quality monitoring, process pressure sensing, plate and membrane integrity and overall process operation for feeding, washing, membrane pressing and cloth/enclosure cleaning.  Fully incorporating Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connectivity into the SFP’s design and operation supports remote management and monitoring access and enables preventative maintenance, which further benefit operator safety.

Investigating technologies to improve operations

Whether it is for LIB or another chemical process, P&ID is always exploring new technology innovations for our customers.  P&ID understands the entire lifecycle, and we’re here to help.  Contact me to work together to brainstorm a possible solution using existing marketplace technologies or develop a new, disruptive approach.  For more information on the SFP, including design details    and sizing, please contact Roxia.   

process guarantees

Perspective on Process Guarantees

process guarantees
Guarantee by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

Any of us in the engineering business solving process filtration and drying problems are familiar with process guarantees. While any supplier is pinning their reputation on their product, customers still often want the reassurance of a process guarantee.

In a recent Chemical Processing article, “Processing Equipment – Are Guarantees Worthwhile,”  writer Andrew Sloley suggests the client is asking for a process guarantee as a way to confirm the supplier’s confidence. It’s like asking, “are you really sure?” Second, since the customer knows it's taking a risk, the process guarantee is reassurance the supplier has properly evaluated its risk. “In other words, the customer would like you to assume some of the risk to show that you're really sure.”

His article got me thinking about the process guarantees that I have given over the years. I have had only three instances in 40 years where the equipment did not meet the process guarantee and I stepped up as part of the management team to take back the equipment. All three times the issues could not have been seen during the lab and pilot testing. One was a pharma project and there were mechanical issues with a new design. Another was a process issue related to zeta potential and Van der Waals forces. The third was related to discharge of the cake.

The process of process guarantees

In his article, Andrew points out that the comfort guarantees “provide can come at considerable cost and complexity.” After all, they increase the amount of contract negotiation time and add more expense and time for performance testing. He concludes, “a provider of equipment or services should make sure it understands the legal implications of providing more than the ‘industry standard’ for a guarantee. Likewise, a customer should carefully decide if demanding a formal guarantee really is worth the extra effort and cost versus simply relying on the reputational risk a supplier carries.”

I’ll tell you that whenever I’m asked for a process guarantee my first response is always “YES!”  Then, we’ll work out the details confirming that we can only guarantee what is tested. This is critical. The guarantee must be based upon the data collected, nothing more. Secondly, the process parameters must be carefully defined such that the data is reproducible. Finally, we’ll outline the action items (for both the equipment supplier and the client) to ensure there’s a plan if the guarantees are not achieved.

Even without a process guarantee, the equipment supplier must stand behind the process solution such that the client is satisfied. That integrity is foundational to business reputation. I live this every day and will always answer when there is a process problem. You can contact me to discuss writing guarantees along with process testing. 

Battery Technology: Speaking at the International Seminar

Photo by Vardan Papikyan on Unsplash

Need more convincing that battery technology is a growing field? This week the International Battery Seminar and Exhibit takes place in Orlando, Florida. In 2022, more than 1,500 battery technologists attended. This year, the event is expected to be even larger with many speakers from around the world. I’m excited to attend and discuss battery tech with others as interested in this area as I am.

The March 20 to 23 Seminar has four streams:

  • R & D: Battery Research and Recycling
  • Manufacturing: Performance and Supply Chain
  • Engineering: Safety, Management Systems and Intelligence
  • Applications: Energy Storage Systems (ESS), Automotive and Electronics

I have the opportunity to present in the R & D stream for recycling. The focus of this stream is to review latest advances in recycling technologies for producing sustainable battery materials from different recycling sources. My presentation, “Process Solid-Liquid Separation and Drying for Geothermal Brine, Battery Material Powder and Black Mass for Recycling,” addresses a need in the market for engineers to understand solid-liquid separation and drying technologies. As lithium and battery materials production increases in scalability, engineers need to know more about automated operation for improved efficiency, reliability, and safety. This topic is also highlighted in my website’s Lithium & Battery Materials section. 

Battery technology decision making

In the lithium, battery materials and recycling market, there is a rapid proliferation of technological advances. I particularly appreciate the cross-disciplinary nature of the work worldwide.

Operating companies need “Key-Shaped” engineers who have several areas of expertise with varying degrees of depth. At each step, requirements will change. Plant personnel must continue to ask critical questions to select the optimum technologies for producing high quality materials. Especially now, with increasing time and technology pressures to produce battery grade material from various sources and to recycle production scrap and lithium-ion batteries.

The information I present provides guidance to the engineers facing these critical process technology decisions for solid-liquid separation and drying. I address considerations for the various complex steps in battery manufacturing and recycling. I’ll provide criteria for technology selection with the objective of developing creative process solutions to achieve battery grade quality and a reliable and cost-effective operation.

If you aren’t in Orlando, you can still view the presentation slides. If you’re in Florida, please contact me to discuss. Otherwise, let’s schedule a virtual meeting or call. Let us get more efficient together.

Geothermal Circular Economy and Icelandic Gin

Image source: mtch3l

“Cheers!” or as the people of Iceland say it, Skál (pronounced “sk owl”). Let’s salute another circular economy blog with a twist of liquor in it! This one looks at the geothermal circular economy and Icelandic gin.

Loyal readers may remember by blog about  the Beer Industry and Sustainable Water with a Cherry Stout. Well, as much as I like a cold beer, I also like to practice yoga and run. In the picture I’m sharing I am practicing a headstand on a trip I took to Iceland. My wife and I went and drove the Southern ring, seeing waterfalls, rafting near icebergs, hiking on the glaciers and golfing in a volcano. Iceland is a great place to visit. We particularly enjoyed the friendly people and the wonderful seafood, fruits, and Hibini Gin and Blueberry Liquors. OK, that’s enough being a travel agent.

Powering a Country with Geothermal Circular Economy

I bring up the gin and liquors because this is the basis for the blog… clean and renewable geothermal energy. A recent article in Power (April 2022), Iceland Offers Case Study of Geothermal’s Powerful Potential, describes the state of geothermal energy in Iceland and how geothermal resources generate electricity, heat homes, grow food, and support manufacture of various products.

The article informs readers all Iceland’s electricity is now produced with renewable energy sources:

  • Geothermal is a vital part of the energy mix, powering about 90% of the nation's central heating, and 30% of electricity, with hydro­power accounting for the other 70% of electricity.
  • Iceland has both high-temperature and low-temperature geothermal resources, with six geothermal power plants generating electricity.
  • Between 1990 and 2014, Iceland saw a 25% population increase, and a 1,700% increase in geothermal electricity production.

The article further discusses how Iceland is pioneering other renewable energy innovations with “geothermal parks” as well as exporting its know-how all over the world. It is an interesting read and demonstrates the potential opportunities of a sustainable economy.

Speaking of the circular economy, I am working on several projects for lithium and battery materials as well as recycling of lithium-ion batteries. Look for information to come on my website. In the meantime, contact me if you are involved in this market (or just want to talk Icelandic gins).

batteries charging

Lithium and EV Batteries & P&ID Problem Solving

batteries charging
Image source:

Worldwide decarbonization goals and the global aim for a sustainable future have prompted exponential growth in the Electric Vehicle (EV) sector in the last few years. This, in turn, has caused an increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries. Lithium, which is needed to produce virtually all batteries currently used in EVs, has also experienced an increase in demand. As the industry scales, P&ID is taking the lead to enhance knowledge of this industry and tackle lithium and EV battery problem solving.

The lithium market is both complex and very young with many different process areas. We need to consider lithium production as well as production of battery powder materials. Plus, sustainability efforts demand attention to battery production scrap recycling and proper handling of End-of-Life (EOL) batteries.

Over the past several years, I have listened to my chemical, engineering, and technology clients and the marketplace about lithium, EV batteries and sustainability & recycling. We’re seeing everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies bringing their expertise to the market. With my expertise and commitment to process filtration, drying and recycling, I can discover hidden needs and evolve solutions through innovation with the clients and marketplace. This drives me, literally and figuratively, to expand my focus into this new and exciting area.

We plan to play a role in the coordinated effort to ensure a domestic supply of lithium batteries and accelerate the development of a robust and secure “lithium-battery manufacturing value chain,” which as the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries (FCAB) puts it, can help “create equitable clean-energy manufacturing jobs” and “mitigate climate change impacts.”

Embracing Lithium and EV Batteries evolution

To capture the full process engineering spectrum, there is a new section on the P&ID website focused on Lithium & Battery Materials. We cover all aspects of (B) Brine, (P) Battery Powder Materials and (R) Recycling and Separation/Refining. Each BPR section reviews the challenges and explains the P&ID approach to problem solving in the sector.

Further, Chemical Processing has provided me with a column and the opportunity to regularly author a web-exclusive column called “Barry on Batteries.” I plan for each column to focus on a different segment of the lithium industry. The discussion will explore current processes, technologies used, challenges, and possible solutions.

Finally, I am speaking at the International Battery Seminar & Exhibition, March 20-23, 2023, in Orlando, Florida. My session will cover process solid-liquid separation and process drying for the lithium, battery powders, and recycling/refining. You can get a sense of the presentation here.

P&ID leadership and innovation will continue in 2023 and beyond with other exciting news, ideas, and projects. So, think out-of-the-box and contact me if I can help with your individual objectives and unique challenges.