Portable power supplies have become essential in a world with ever-increasing demand for power-powered devices. From electric vehicles to the Internet of Things, it could be argued that the modern world could function without batteries.
But, unfortunately, the energy density, charging times, and lifespan of most common batteries are limited. To this end, many researchers are working hard to find the “holy grail” of battery technology – a cheap, long-lasting, durable, and power-packed solution.
This is no easy feat, but some hope that using robots and artificial intelligence can supercharge the entire process, to borrow a phrase.
But first, let’s look at why new batteries are so difficult to manufacture.
Challenges in battery development
Battery development is a complex field with a number of challenges to overcome. At this time, key issues include, but are not limited to:
Batteries must store more energy in a smaller volume to meet the needs of various applications, particularly electric cars and portable gadgets. Achieving high energy density while ensuring safety and longevity is an important constraint.
Aging and Cycle Stability
Batteries gradually lose their ability to hold a charge over time. An important aspect of battery performance is the number of complete charge-discharge cycles a battery can go through before it degrades to a certain point (typically 80% of original capacity). Improving battery longevity and cycle stability is critical.
Fast charging is an important demand for batteries, especially for electric vehicles, where long charging times may deter potential users. Balancing fast charging times while preventing overheating or degradation of the battery is a complex challenge.
Many advanced batteries that offer better performance are also more expensive to manufacture. Decreasing the cost of these batteries is essential for their widespread adoption.
High energy densities and fast charge times can increase the risk of battery failure and fire. Ensuring safety is always a key issue in battery development.
Sustainability and recycling
Many batteries, especially lithium-ion batteries, use relatively rare and expensive materials that have a high environmental impact of mining and use. There are also some very important ethical and geopolitical issues surrounding child labor and the poor working conditions where most of the material is commonly sourced. Making more durable batteries and improving the battery recycling process are key goals.
Many batteries rely on materials like lithium and cobalt, which are in limited supply. There is also a geopolitical risk as these resources are concentrated in specific regions.
With increasing demand for batteries, particularly for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, the ability to scale up production while maintaining quality and cost effectiveness is a key challenge.
Innovations in materials science, engineering, and manufacturing are constantly being pursued to address these issues. To this end, it is hoped that robotics and AI can significantly help accelerate these efforts and overcome challenges in battery development.
Robotics and AI
To appreciate the possible impact of AI and robotics on the battery industry, we already have a test case from Carnegie Mellon University.
In September 2022, a team of researchers combined cutting-edge AI and robotics technologies to rapidly accelerate the research process to create new forms of better batteries.
Since efficient ion conductivity is critical to designing lithium-ion batteries, researchers are constantly looking for ways to improve it. A team at Carnegie Mellon has found a new way to dramatically accelerate this.
In their paper, published in Nature Communications, the researchers highlight how they successfully combined a specific type of robot with an AI learning system to produce innovative, non-aqueous liquid electrolytes.
To speed up the process, the researchers created a robot called “Cleve” that used the necessary components to prepare electrolyte samples based on instructions.
A computer with a deep learning AI program called “Dragonfly” was added to the system along with “Clio” and electrolyte sensors.
“Dragonfly” analyzed the data and suggested improvements. “Clue” then implemented these suggestions to create a new model.
This process was repeated for two days until the quality of the electrolyte improved. The mechanical dove was stopped when the researchers considered the products ready for testing.
During the experiment, the scientists observed that their paired AI system worked as intended, slowly growing electrolyte samples.
The most exceptional results achieved a 13% improvement over current high-performance batteries on the market. The researchers now plan to further expand the capabilities of their system to evaluate different objectives and increase speed.
This area of research and development has already expanded beyond academia, with companies such as Chemix using a similar approach to develop advanced batteries for the EV market.
Whether in university research or commercial development, the hope is that automation and machine learning can accelerate the discovery of new and innovative materials.
This could lead to better batteries, more efficient photovoltaic systems, and other developments.
And that’s your lot for today.
While new battery development is complex and intensive, robotics and artificial intelligence can accelerate the process to produce safe and reliable batteries of the future. The work of Carnegie Mellon researchers, among others, has already shown some interesting results, and it will be interesting to see what the future brings to this Brannen field.