South America’s abundant renewables mean only one thing: batteries. As lead-acid deployment grows and the lithium-ion sector sparks into life, Dr Mike McDonagh witnessed an industry in the ascendance when he visited Brazil’s Fenibat conference.
The Fenibat 2022 conference took place in Londrina which is located on the east side of Brazil in the northern part of the state of Parana just 465 km from Sao Paulo, the nearest international airport. It is easily accessed by daily flights from that city. The programme started the afternoon before the conference, with a cocktail evening. There were snacks, along with beer and a variety of drinks and live music.
Unfortunately, my colleague and I arrived quite late due to missing our connecting flight at Sao Paulo. However, the networking opportunities with many of the supply companies and some battery manufacturers were still in evidence. Fortunately, we were greeted by Jayme Guasmo who was diligently attending to the guests, making introductions and giving out information.
Prior to the conference, the Fenibat website provided comprehensive information on the location, the parking, the administration, the organisation of the halls and presentations, the speakers and their papers. Parking was right next to the exhibition hall with reception in the entrance. The presentation hall was less than 200 metres from the suppliers’ show with the catering hall between these two.
The presentations were organised over two days with mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks to supplement the lunch interlude. For delegates who needed it, there were wireless translations for all presentations. For speakers, there was excellent technical backup, and no problems in making last-minute changes to presentation documents.
Diverse battery topics
The topics were diverse, ranging from separators in lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries to turnkey manufacturing solutions for lithium-ion cell production, with suppliers to the battery industry providing practically all of the papers. Most of these were delivered in person and some were virtual contributions. As with most of lead-acid development these days, it was additives and that element with an atomic weight of 12 and symbol C was prominent in many of the presentations.
For lead-acid batteries, carbon provides enhanced conductivity, and improves charge acceptance and cycle life. This is important for enhanced flooded battery longevity, and for energy storage applications to improve levelised-cost-of-energy ratings. Figs 1 and 2 show some of the work being done by Hammond and Orion to improve the effectiveness of lead-acid batteries.
Working with industrial and research partners, the Consortium for Battery Innovation have a technical programme for lead-acid batteries’ improvement. It is based mostly on performance-enhancing additives, particularly carbon. Fig 3 shows the technical roadmap. I think it is fair to assume that we are all eager to see the results of these projects and their commercial exploitation.
Lead Battery presentations
There were two presentations that targeted lead-acid manufacturing processes: Batek’s improved cast-on-strap moulds, which give lead savings and better weld quality. There was also my own presentation with partners UK Powertech, Digatron and ESPL, showing the technical and financial benefits of efficient formation methods.
The presentation by Penox had one unexpected consequence, a possible future cooperation with the UK Powertech’s team on improving PbA battery formation efficiency. Their TBLS+ additive significantly improves charge acceptance, in particular dynamic charge acceptance. It also gives better cycle life and discharge capacity (Fig 4). This, combined with the efficient formation programme, may give even further savings in time and energy already achieved by the UKP team— watch this space.
Carbon also figured heavily in the lithium battery presentations. 2DM for example show a highly significant improvement in lithium-ion and lithium-sulphur batteries’ specific energy density when graphene is substituted for carbon (Fig 5).
There was a focus on lithium-ion manufacturing processes and equipment, as well as materials supply and recycling of used lithium batteries.
Regarding lithium-ion, Instituto Senai points out that there are no lithium-ion manufacturing plants in Brazil. They are engaged in materials research and have pilot-scale manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion cells. In a similar operation, Tecnologias Netzsch uses its minerals and mining expertise to offer technological backup and testing for lithium-ion battery manufacturing. They even go as far as offering turnkey solutions for aspiring manufacturers.
The exhibitors’ hall was regularly full. The relatively compact size meant that finding your stand of interest was simple and speedy. Most of the exhibitors that I spoke to seemed very pleased with the venue and organisation. Many thought that the engagement with potential and current customers was easier and less formal than in some of the larger conference venues. This was, in no small part, due to the organisers’ hands-on approach.
The other side of the lithium-ion market, i.e. recycling was the focus of several contributors. As with all other conferences, the focus was on the obvious need to recycle rather than on any practical commercial solutions to recover all of the materials. Other problems that need addressing in this area are the safe collection, handling and storage of used lithium-ion batteries.
Whilst this conference may not be on the radar of many battery manufacturers in the northern hemisphere or Asia, I would seriously counsel these organisations to put in an appearance. The battery industry in South America is clearly thriving, with PbA still in its ascendency. Lithium-ion manufacturing technology is still embryonic but shows a developing interest by investors and PbA manufacturers alike.
If you are a battery manufacturer or supplier, and want to meet the right companies in this part of the world, then attending the next Fenibat conference is an essential requirement.