Innovative Technical Research Centres As a State-of-the-Art Engineering Product
the III Interregional Conference "Industrial Engineering and Prospects for Attracting Leading Russian Research and Technology Centres to Develop High-Tech Industries in the Regions". One of the highlights of the conference was the opening of the Lithium-Ion Technology Laboratory in the Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Lithium-ion technologies for the consumer market, industry and transport
Lithium-ion batteries have a number of key advantages over other types of electrical energy storage devices. They are characterised by a high energy capacity, a low self-discharge, a wide temperature range, lack of memory effect and require no maintenance. Such batteries can take charge of any state of charge including at low temperatures and within a very short time. At the present level of technology it is possible to create batteries with custom specifications, for example, with a minimum value or a very long lifetime.
According to the assessment of J.P. Morgan, in 2013 the global market for lithium-ion batteries exceeded $16 billion, and as early as 2018 this figure may double. Portable electronics remains the key field of application of lithium-ion batteries but they tend to be more actively used in the transport and energy sectors. It is expected that by 2020 these three segments will be in approximately equal proportions.
The Russian industry is in dire need of modern electrical energy storages. To upgrade the existing ones and create new domestic battery manufacturing facilities a well-equipped research centre capable of performing up-to-date research and development was required. The new laboratory in the Ioffe Institute became such a centre.
R&D and pilot production facility
The Russian Ministry of Education and Science funded creating a pilot facility for research and prototyping and production prototypes of lithium-ion batteries. The ElTech SPb company designed, built, created engineering systems and mounted the process and laboratory equipment.
The floor area of the facility is more than 500 sq.m, of which about 200 sq.m accounts for clean rooms including a "dry" room in which humidity is below 2%. The facility has the equipment for all the process stages: electrode production, the battery assembly, moulding, and testing of battery. The laboratory studies the electrode materials and electrolytes, develops electrode technologies, the electronic control system of high-voltage batteries, lithium-ion batteries and battery packs, and it also provides technology transfer to plants and factories.
According to Andrey Zabrodsky, Director of the Ioffe Institute, the development of lithium-ion technologies is largely associated with the new cathode and anode materials, so R&D involves different laboratories of the Institute which focus on materials chemistry and materials physics.
Vasily Zhdanov, Head of the Laboratory of Lithium-Ion Processes noted that the research is conducted in different fields in order to increase the energy capacity and lifetime, reduce cost and improve other characteristics of a battery. In particular, it is very promising to introduce nanostructured anode materials in order to create custom batteries.
Technical Research Centre
for Thin-Film Technologies
The conference participants were also shown the Research Technical Centre for Thin-Film Technologies which has operated in the Ioffe Institute since 2012. The project is a subsidiary of Hevel, the first Russian production of solar modules created by the Renova Group of Companies and Rusnano corporation. The Research Technical Centre is designed to improve the technology, develop new products and deliver training to the parent company located in Novocheboksarsk.
While the total amount of investment in primary production, the capacity of which should amount to about one million solar modules per year (130 MW), exceeds 20 billion roubles, the cost of the Research Technical Centre was cheaper by about 10 times. Funds for the creation of the Research Technical Centre were allocated by Renova, Rusnano and Skolokovo Foundation. The Research Technical Centre was designed and built by the company ElTech SPb.
Like the Novocheboksarsk plant, the Research Technical Centre has the facilities of the latest fifth generation made by the Swiss company Oerlikon Solar. Since the facilities of the Research Technical Centre and main production are similar, the cost of transfer of innovations developed by the Research Technical Centre can be cut down.
The introduced technology for manufacturing photovoltaic modules is based on the process of formation of nanostructured thin film of the amorphous hydrogenated silicon. This solution is characterised by the relative cheapness and simplicity. Due to the low film precipitation temperature (<300ºC), glass is used as a substrate whereby it is possible to create tandem structures. In addition to solar cells, the equipment allows making highly sensitive photodetectors, optical memory elements, image converters , control matrixes for widescreen displays.
Two-stage solar cells, the production of which the Research Technical Centre has mastered, consist of amorphous and microcrystalline silicon; each semiconductor fulfils its part of the solar spectrum. The structure of an element comprises 13 layers with a thickness of 100 nm to 2 microns. The module architecture is created by laser scribing.
The micromorph solar modules have the dimensions of 1.3×1.1 m at a thickness of about 7 mm and the weight of 26 kg. The nominal peak power is 125 watts. By their electrical characteristics such modules are close to the crystalline silicon systems prevailing in the market (about 80%); they combine well with industrial inverters and are consistent with accepted standards.
According to the original technology transferred by Oerlikon Solar, the efficiency of the modules is 8.9% which is below the potential of micromorph coatings; therefore the Research Technical Centre’s task is to increase this figure to 11-12%. According to Yevgeny Terukov, Deputy General Director of the Centre, a solution may be to add to the photovoltaic converters of the third stage of an alloy of silicon and germanium.
Therefore the first large-scale project in the Russian solar energy sector is provided with a reliable research base that encourages optimism about its prospects in the domestic and overseas markets. ■