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New technique to improve quality control of lithium-ion batteries

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Researchers have created a new tool to detect flaws in lithium-ion batteries as they are being manufactured, a step toward reducing defects and inconsistencies in the thickness of electrodes that affect battery life and reliability.

The electrodes, called anodes and cathodes, are the building blocks of powerful battery arrays such as those used in electric and hybrid vehicles.

They are copper on one side and coated with a black compound to store lithium on the other. Lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode while the battery is being charged and in the reverse direction when discharging energy.

The material expands as lithium ions travel into it, and this expansion and contraction causes mechanical stresses that eventually can damage a battery and reduce its lifetime, said Douglas Adams, Kenninger Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Purdue Center for Systems Integrity.

The coating is a complex mixture of carbon, particulates that store lithium, chemical binders and carbon black. The quality of the electrodes depends on this “battery paint” being applied with uniform composition and thickness.

“A key challenge is to be able to rapidly and accurately sense the quality of the battery paint,” said James Caruthers, Reilly Professor of Chemical Engineering and co-inventor of the new sensing technology.

The Purdue researchers have developed a system that uses a flashbulb-like heat source and a thermal camera to read how heat travels through the electrodes. The “flash thermography measurement” takes less than a second and reveals differences in thickness and composition.
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