Battery research: Start for the first fully automated lab
Minister of Science visits research facility at the POLiS Cluster of Excellence

Ulm University

A new facility at the POLiS Cluster of Excellence manages material development in an entirely automatic and digital fashion, from manufacturing batteries around the clock to analysing thousands of interfaces and autonomously evaluating the results with the help of artificial intelligence. The autonomous research lab, which is now in operation, was developed in cooperation with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Ulm University and the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU). Baden-Württemberg Minister of Science Theresia Bauer was present for the launch.

The transportation and energy transition poses the great challenge of developing new kinds of batteries that are more powerful and sustainable. Using currently existing methods, it takes decades to develop an idea into a finished product. With the recently completed high-tech facility at POLiS, the development process should be much faster in the future. The lighthouse project was a product of the POLiS Cluster of Excellence, in which the KIT and Ulm University work together to create the batteries of the future. “Funding for this new material development platform has resulted in the creation of a new, globally unique research infrastructure. We are hoping it will provide a strong boost for research into energy storage systems, which will be indispensable as we adapt our energy and transportation sectors. The funding has also made it possible for us to recruit Prof Helge Stein as a creative and dynamic player for our team in Ulm”, said Theresia Bauer, Minister of Science, Research and the Arts in Baden-Württemberg, during her visit to HIU for the lab’s launch.

POLiS research unit spokesperson Helge Stein, tenure-track professor at KIT, explains the advantages of the facility: “We are now in a position to manufacture and assemble batteries and their individual components automatically, and we can also automatically trigger and evaluate a measurement. Based on the data, the AI-supported system can even decide which experiment should be performed next”. With his research team, he developed the foundational combinatorial material synthesis, the high-throughput characterisation and the data mining techniques with the aid of AI methods in experiment assessment and planning. The facility bears the name PLACES/R (Platform for Accelerated Electrochemical Energy Storage Research) and is the world’s first fully integrated platform for accelerated research in the area of electrochemical energy storage.

New paradigm for battery material development

Battery research is characterised by the search for the ideal combination of materials, their composition and process technologies. Testing all materials with all possible variations would take thousands of years with classical methods. “Our facility can test several hundred of these variations per day, which is roughly equivalent to the average life’s work of a researcher”, says Stein. In addition to the acceleration resulting from the automation, algorithms and AI can increase optimisation by a factor of 10, thus bringing promising battery concepts to market maturity faster and at a lower cost.

The new research facility is embedded in a European framework. The data collected from all the areas of the battery development cycle is shared with 34 institutions from 15 countries in the BIG-MAP project of the European research initiative BATTERY2030+. “The fully automated lab will not only enable us and our European partners to develop components for new batteries much faster. It will also ensure that batteries can be produced at such low costs that it will be even more attractive in the future to store electricity, for instance from the sun and wind, in batteries” says Professor Maximillian Fichtner, managing director of HIU and spokesperson for POLiS.

Text/mediacontact: Daniel Messling, POLiS

The Minister’s visit at HIU
The Minister’s visit at HIU (from left): University President Prof Michael Weber, Prof Maximillian Fichtner, University Vice President Prof Joachim Ankerhold, Minister Theresia Bauer, Vice President Prof Oliver Kraft (KIT), Prof Helge Stein (Photo: KIT/Daniel Messling)
Minister Theresia Bauer and Prof. Helge Stein (Photo: KIT/Daniel Messling)
Prof Helge Stein explains a part of his new material acceleration platform to Minister Theresia Bauer (Photo: KIT/Daniel Messling)
Presentation of the new facility at HIU
Presentation of the new facility at HIU (Photo: KIT/Daniel Messling)