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Developing better batteries for electric cars and other applications is a topical issue right now.

Sunshine Coast-based Nano-Nouvelle is currently developing a tin based anode called the Tin Nanode, for use in lithium-ion batteries. 

Current lithium-ion anodes are produced using graphite as an active material that is coated on a copper foil current collector. As tin is a high energy material, there is potential to produce anodes with increased energy density, compared with conventional graphite anodes.

   Scott Smith (CEED student) above is 
   preparing solutions for experimental

As part of the development of this product, Nano-Nouvelle appointed Scott Smith, a final year Mechanical Engineering student from QUT, to develop a conceptual plant design and cost model, over summer vacation + semester 1 (end-November 2014-June 2015). The project will also become Scott’s final year engineering thesis topic. 

Nano-Nouvelle is keen to utilise Scott’s engineering and problem solving skills on this project (as part of their team) and to contribute to Scott’s early professional training.  Scott recently said he was attracted to this CEED project because “it presented a great opportunity to start applying my engineering skills to real problems in an industry setting. Learning more about project management and how to develop a manufacturing cost model will also be valuable in my future career”.

Commencing in November over the summer vacation, Scott’s main objective is to design a conceptual plant to produce Nano-Nouvelle’s Tin Nanode product. His scope includes:

  • Development of process flow diagrams
  • Selection of equipment and process options
  • Investigation of manufacturing costs
  • Development of cost models, including a sensitivity analysis

However, Scott has been careful to identify boundaries to his project scope. These are:

  • The plant design begins with raw materials, and ends with a packaged electrode. It does not include assembly of actual battery products.
  • The detail of the plant design will address floor space layout requirements, but will not consider a detailed piping and instrumentation design.
  • The specific chemistry for each process is to be determined by the company’s scientists and engineers and is beyond the scope of this project.
  • Waste minimisation will be considered at all stages of the process.

This project is of particular interest to the company as the processes used to produce the Tin Nanode are significantly different to existing methods of lithium-ion battery anode production.

Scott pictured - testing his automation
device prototype

Scott said he is enjoying the challenge, “the project has required me to make a lot of assumptions as the manufacturing process hasn’t been finalised.  Learning about plant costing and estimation has been a steep learning curve.  There have also been challenges with some materials selection problems, due to the chemical processes used. Fortunately the team at Nano-Nouvelle have been friendly and very helpful, and are readily available to provide input when required”. 

Apart from cost modeling and materials, Scott has also learnt about “the workings of a startup, how funding is obtained, how matters of intellectual property and confidentiality agreements are addressed, and how collaborative relationships with other companies are developed.

As at mid-April, Scott has “formed the framework of the cost model, and I am in the process of entering all of the capital and operating expenditure data. Once complete, a sensitivity analysis will be performed on key variables identified by company management”.

From Scott’s finished work (due in June 2015), Nano-Nouvelle will gain good indications as to the unit cost of producing the Tin Nanode. They will be able to determine where the majority of production costs will be incurred, and can plan where further research should be directed, in order to reduce those costs.

Now that sounds like a win-win for all concerned!

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