Dispersing Technology Center

© Foto: Nikola Kaloyanov, Fraunhofer IPA

The Dispersing Technology Center is where Fraunhofer IPA bundles its expertise in this area of surface technology. With its comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach, the center covers the entire process chain of dispersion technology, from the development of basic scientific principles right through to industrial applications.

This enables us to meet the industry’s demand for a competent partner in the form of a supporting research institution. Among other things, we develop solutions for process and equipment reliability in the center, as well as find ways to improve energy efficiency and save on resources. We help industrial customers develop applications by advising them on the design of the overall process and also on the choice of the right materials. Right from the start, we consider and regulate key aspects, such as the degree of automation, energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Within the scope of development projects, we find out which matrix materials you need, such as binders, pigments and fillers, as well as the right surface functionalization, additives, stabilizers and processing methods. This gives us the know-how to develop tailor-made dispersion formulas for every application. When it comes to developing functional materials, dispersion technology and the stabilization of nanoparticles play a major role. Due to their large surface area, nanoparticles tend to form agglomerates. In an agglomerated state, they cannot be incorporated into other materials because they render them inhomogeneous and impair their function. Therefore, nanoparticles have to be added in a stable state without agglomerates. In the Center for Dispersion Technology, the development of dispersions therefore begins, if necessary, not only with the dispersion and stabilization of particles in a matrix polymer formulation, but also with the targeted functionalization of the filler/pigment surfaces.

Scalable processes: Digitized dispersion system for battery production

In electrode manufacture, the composition of the paste used to coat the substrate is crucial to the following processes and the quality of the batteries. The paste later forms the active part of the battery. It consists of a powder mixture containing not only core substances such as lithium or cobalt compounds but also binders, dispersing agents and conductive substances like conductive soot. A solvent is stirred into this powder to form a slurry. The fully-digitized dispersion equipment, such as that used in the IPA laboratories, is fitted with numerous sensors: During the stirring process, the sensors measure such parameters as heat distribution, filling levels and conductivity. They detect any lumps and prolong the stirring process if required. Once a homogeneous paste has been formed, they let the system know that the process is finished. Up till now, dispersion companies have generally worked with large safety margins. Consequently, much of the energy is released as heat instead of being used to improve the properties of the dispersion. Huge savings could be achieved here.

The data recorded and their analysis can help to significantly reduce reject rates. This is because in tomorrow's factories, all the machines required for battery production are connected to each other. If a coating machine identifies a problem, it could instruct the dispersion system to prolong the stirring process or adjust other parameters. The ultimate goal is to develop a self-learning system that no longer requires external intervention.

The data from a smart dispersion system not only improves the dispersion needed for battery cell production; above all, the data can significantly contribute to reducing battery reject rates and saving energy.