Success Story

Innovating for zero-emission mobility

Solving bonding/debonding challenges to make car batteries more efficient, affordable and sustainable

Mobility Automotive Metals Power

New battery design and technology will make or break the success of the e-mobility revolution. The challenges however, are daunting: cost, driving range, safety, repairability, but also the recyclability of millions of decommissioned batteries in the future. Teaming up with industrial and academic partners, our Adhesive Technologies business applies material knowhow and scientific expertise to find pioneering solutions for a sustainable e-(r)evolution.

Solving bonding/debonding challenges of cell-to-pack batteries

Electric vehicle (EV) batteries as we have known them for 10 years feature a set of 8-12 individual cells that are assembled in shoebox-type modules. These modules are then connected with each other and integrated into a frame structure – the pack. A few years ago, the cell-to-pack design has started gaining momentum. It skips the modules and fixes the individual cells directly to the pack. The result: higher driving ranges due to a higher energy density. Despite its benefits, the cell-to-pack approach also created new challenges.

The first challenge is bonding strength. To make the boxless structure strong enough to survive an accident, it needs to be an integral part of the car. This requires very heavy bonding. But once the battery structure is glued for eternity, you face the next challenge: How do you repair the battery, if you cannot open and disassemble it without damaging the cells? Discarding it would be a very expensive option and an unsustainable one too – not least because it contains precious raw materials, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel.

This is where the concept of debonding comes in. The challenge is not new – it is done in mobile phones, for example – but the scope of the challenge is unheard of: hundreds of battery cells clinging to their aluminum structure with a strength of around 10 Megapascal. And they need to be debonded gently, so that the sensitive cells stay intact. The debonding issue thus turns out to be vital for the success of the cell-to-pack design.


Exploded battery pack - cell to module

Battery pack - cell to module


Battery pack - cell to pack

Battery pack - cell to pack

Our “Fuel the Future” team takes up this bonding/debonding challenge. Founded in 2021, the team features in-house battery cell and system experts. The team’s mission it to act as thought leaders in this disruptive market and turn our technologies into an enabler of e-mobility.

Right from the start, the team made it clear that plug-and-play solutions were out of the question. Battery designs vary from customer to customer, so they focused on developing product packages that would fit different battery designs. Leveraging the equipment at our Battery Engineering Center in Düsseldorf they created digital battery twins and digitally tested them in different scenarios. These simulations enabled them to identify suitable bonding candidates and debonding options.

>10

specialized applications
for EV batteries

50+

of the best-selling electric vehicle platforms worldwide

+2,100

kilotons estimated amount of recycled batteries in Europe by 2040 1

Case study: Enabling battery circularity with debondable adhesives in six months

YouTube Thumbnail Battery Engineering Center - Keon Lee interview (Thumbnail)


Keon Lee, Senior Manager PD Battery Solutions Adhesive Technologies at Henkel, gives us the keys about the Henkel’s advanced modeling and simulation process.

A pioneering car manufacturer approached us in mid-2023. Their request: We want to adjust our battery design towards the cell-to-pack concept, but we want to be able to disassemble the battery for repair and end-of-life applications, such as repurposing and recycling.

The rationale for their investment is a question of arithmetic: it is estimated that the sum of rework and recall rate in the battery manufacturing industry is a single-digit percentage. Assuming a manufacturer produces 150,000 batteries a week and only one percent fails, losses add up to 1,500 malfunctional battery cells.  
 
The customer challenged us: How can we disassemble the battery during a repair or for end-of-life applications and retrieve as many battery cells and other expensive components as possible? In other words, they wanted us to provide high adhesive strength for structural integrity, and a trigger to debond gently, while also respecting their own battery design requirements.  

At that point our research effort took on a new drive. We put a dedicated team of chemists and application engineers to work on the adhesive formulation; we teamed up with equipment manufacturers to work out how to apply the material; and we sounded out ideas with debonding specialists.  

Creating a digital twin, we then simulated different bonding/debonding use cases. We identified three suitable trigger options to soften the tough adhesive when needed: electricity, heat, and chemistry. Collaborating closely with the customer, our specialists at the Battery Engineering Center in Düsseldorf, Germany then tested and validated each solution on full battery packs.

By the end of the year, we had found the most suitable trigger for the customer’s battery. We are now collaborating to upscale the concept for their line production.

How Henkel drives innovation in e-mobility 

The need to reduce the global CO2 footprint has turned the automotive business into a dynamic and fast-transforming industry. New designs and concepts are urgently needed if mobility is to become sustainable. Henkel has an advanced portfolio of materials and technologies to help solve the challenges. In addition, we work with strong partners to develop next generation batteries:

  • Our “Fuel the Future” team cooperates with academia and research institutions to help us understand how to solve some of the production challenges. Among our academic partners is the “Production Engineering of E-Mobility Components” chair (PEM) at Aachen University. 
  • Our team also collaborates with the equipment industry to dispense the different materials that we at Henkel offer. Our Battery Engineering Center in Düsseldorf therefore includes a lab with a production-scale robot system to apply materials, such as adhesives and thermal interface materials.
  • Our raw material suppliers are another essential part of the process, helping us to find new solutions to address market requirements.

Our most important collaboration effort, however, takes place with the customers. As we are not supplying of-the-shelf solutions, we spend hours and days with our customers both at their lines, and at our facilities to conduct trials and find solutions.

Yet our mission to advance e-mobility is not limited to Düsseldorf. In our research and development effort we are truly global. With eight world-class innovation hubs and more than 300 technical and scientific experts around the world, we are all set to act as thought leaders in the automotive business.   

Photo Stephan Höfer, Head of Global Market Strategy for e-mobility Adhesive Technologies at Henkel

We see ourselves as an enabler for e-mobility. We believe that our innovations and technologies can make this automotive revolution come true. Our claim ‘Innovating for zero emission mobility’ highlights this vision and mission.

Getting ready for new e-mobility visions

In e-mobility our goal is net zero emissions. We want to help reduce the CO2 footprint on a global scale, enabled by our technologies. However, we look beyond the immediate technical challenges of e-mobility to address societal mega trends. As the whole concept of individual mobility is changing, we need to enable different ways of vehicle usage, such as car sharing, autonomous driving, or even driverless taxis. They will all impact future battery design.

At present, cars and batteries are designed for the driving patterns of today’s car owners: they drive to work in the morning, park their car, and drive home in the evening. An autonomous electric vehicle that is contacted via an app will be on the road 24/7. An algorithm makes sure it charges intelligently throughout the day. That presents new challenges for the car and its chassis, but especially for the battery, as it consumes and recharges energy constantly without ever getting a long break.  

To spearhead these e-mobility trends, we are opening battery centers around the world with upcoming locations in the USA and China to complement our Battery Engineering Center in Düsseldorf. The centers will be connected via shared digital platforms to foster seamless cross-regional collaboration. This will help them to accelerate innovation, to enable growth for the entire e-vehicle industry, and to fulfill our claim: “Innovating for zero-emission mobility”.

 

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