Keynote: Product Development Based on Electrochemical Science and Engineering

Monday, 6 October 2014: 10:00
Expo Center, 1st Floor, Universal 1 (Moon Palace Resort)
R. Spotnitz (Battery Design LLC)
Two examples, one of a successfully developed process and the other of a successfully developed product, are presented with a focus on the engineering approach used in the development process.  The process is for mediated electrosynthesis and the product is a multi-layer battery separator for use in lithium-ion batteries.  Each example is used to highlight the following steps in product development:

1)      Identify a need.

  1. Recognize long-term trends
  2. Do good and people will help you

2)      Establish in-house tests to validate that the need is met and to benchmark.

  1. Ask customers for help

3)      Develop a product to address the need.

  1. Ask the best and brightest for help
  2. Use the best tools you can – rent, borrow
  3. Be precise about what you know – don’t let prior work blind you to new opportunities
  4. Don’t give up to chase another product (enthusiasm is inversely proportional to knowledge), development often takes a decade
  5. Use modeling, especially financial, whenever possible to provide direction
  6. Promptly protect your know-how as generally as possible
  7. Try to improve on what works, don’t keep doing what doesn’t work, recognize statistical nature of testing

4)      Validate through customer evaluation that the need is met.

A novel process for mediated electrosynthesis was successfully developed [1-4].  The long term trend which encouraged this development is electrification [5].  The historical trajectory toward lower cost and higher efficiency of electricity encouraged its use for chemical production.  However, a financial analysis revealed that electrochemical synthesis is a relatively expensive, capital-intensive means of producing chemicals.  So high-value chemicals which are difficult to produce by conventional processes were targeted.  Mediated electrosynthesis of aldehydes was identified as a commercially attractive process.  A team including an inorganic chemist and chemical engineer was directed to develop a process.  The poor solubility of mediators emerged as a critical problem and was solved by use of methanesulfonate as a counter-ion.  Process modeling, following the work of Alkire et al. [6], helped identify optimize the process and small-scale lab testing of a continuous process proved feasibility of the process design.  The process was transferred to a customer who carried out pilot-scale testing to validate the process.

A multi-layer battery separator [7-8] was successfully developed.  The growth of consumer electronics and accompanying need for batteries and battery separators was the long-term trend that drove this effort.  Customers were instrumental in defining requirements for thermal stability and tensile strength.  The original approach of uniaxial orientation of a membrane prepared by thermally induced phase separation was dropped when testing revealed the tensile strength requirement could not be met without an expensive biaxial orientation.  Based on customer feedback, some iterations on the product were necessary before sales were made.


1)      US 4,639,298 “Oxidation of Organic Compounds Using Ceric Ions in Aqueous Methanesulfonic Acid,” 27Jan1987.

2)      US 4,692,227 “Oxidation of Organic Compounds Using Thallium Ions,” 8Sep1987

3)      US 4,647,349 “Oxidation of Organic Compounds Using Ceric Ions in Aqueous Trifluoromethanesulfonic Acid,” 3Mar1987

4)      US 4,670,108 “Oxidation of Organic Compounds Using Ceric Methanesulfonate in an Aqueous Organic Solution,” 2Jun1987

5)      J. Bockris ” Electrochemistry of Cleaner Environments” Springer 1972.

6)      R. Alkire, R. La Roche, G. Cera, M. Stadtherr “Computer-Aided Simulation of Electrochemical Process Flowsheets”, J. Electrochemc. Soc. 133(2) (1986) 290-295.

7)      US 5,240,655 “Process of Making a Battery Separator,” 31Aug1993

8)      US 5,281,491, “Battery Separator”, 25Jan1994