Fueling dreams, SAFT batteries help machines take off

Made in Maryland

Made in Maryland is a monthly segment by ABC 2's Cassie Carlisle, showcasing local unsung trades. If you know a company fitting this description email Cassie.Carlisle@wmar.com.

The secret to powering F-35 military jets, satellites and race cars are very light, relatively small batteries.

That's right, batteries.

In Cockeysville, SAFT batteries has produced and innovated lithium-ion batteries for the last 50 years.

SAFT batteries lab in Cockeysville, MD

It's a complicated and sensitive process.

Walking through the facility we passed bags of material that looked like giant bricks. Those contained carbon.

Next to it were barrels, containing dog food-looking brown bags of lithium ion.

SAFT orders the material from South American mines. 

During our visit we donned safety glasses, a clean suit that covered your neck down and a hair net.

 

Suiting up at SAFT

Inside the clean room, two identical machines sit across one another.

Each has a cake-like batter of lithium ion and carbon or nickel-oxide that a machine prints onto foil.

One side has a high quality tinfoil, the other has a copper foil.

A paste, a slurry, we apply it to foil as it goes through the machine... it's piped through to the little applicator tips there that go back and forth and they will layer the ink onto the foil. -Annie Sennet, SAFT VP

The "cake batter" then rolls into an oven about three yards long.

On the other side, positive and negative electrodes come out.

Once finished on one side, the roll of electrodes is brought back to the front of the machine to run the process on the other side of the foil.

This is to increase performance and maximize space.

"If you are making something, a highly specialized product, like we do for space, defense and Formula One applications where they have really high performance need, you need to have the manufacturing be extra sensitive, extra special, extra controlled," said Annie Sennet, Executive Vice President of SAFT's Space and Defense Division.

 

Roll of high quality tinfoil before active material is applied.

At each step of the process technicians monitor machines and test the product to ensure perfection.

The rolls of electrodes are then cut to exact sizes necessary for each application.

The cutting machine has a bare blade that cleanly slices the foil as it's rolled through.

Next, the rolls hang in glass cases, waiting to be wound together.

Those are electrodes that are going to go into cells that will be made for a Ferrari, for the Formula One racing that we supply all the batteries for. [Reporter: So they start up the engine?] It's some of the starting activities but it's all the power during the race. -Sennet

Some of the rolls will eventually power satellites, F-35 jets and emergency car devices.

This machine winds electrodes together with a separator to create a battery.
Through a series of all these meandering machines they are going to bring the electrodes together with the separator in the middle and they're going to make a wind. -Sennet

The rolls of electrodes come together in a machine that has dozens of moving parts.

The machine rolls in the positive and negative electrodes, as well as a trash bag like material that serves as the separator.

It creates a "wind" that looks like a jelly roll cake. The positive material serving as the cake, the separator as the whip cream and the negative material as the jelly.

Scientists then weld a metal top and bottom onto the "wind" and place it in a metal case.

The battery looks finished, now called a cell, but it's not done.

The cells move to yet another room, onto a conveyor belt, where eight at a time are injected with electrolytes.

The cells line up and and then they start shooting the, they pull a vacuum and shoot the electrolyte in there.

 

 

This machine injects electrolytes into the battery.

There are also individual work stations that require manual set up to inject the electrolyte.

The "wind" takes several minutes to absorb the liquid.

Then finally, the battery gets a jump start.

This machine injects electrolytes into the "wind".
It doesn't look that proprietary because they're just sitting there being connected but how we do it at what temperature we do it, for how long we do it, how strong and the intervals we do it at are very specific to our technology and our performance. -Sennet

Every battery in the world needs a charge.

These batteries have a very specific rate of charging at a regulated temperature. It's considered the secret ingredient that makes these batteries that much better in their already high performance.

Each of these batteries have a specific purpose. Some like those on satellites, last for years in extreme temperatures.

Others put out a huge amount of power, fueling race cars.

Some power defense.

"These batteries are for the F-35 joint strike fighter-- these specific ones are for the emergency operations should the aircraft ever lose power, they can still operate the aircraft," Sennet said.

Satellite batteries in a vacuum chamber, getting tested.

Small pieces of tech powering machines around the world, made right here in Cockeysville.

SAFT originated in France.

SAFT stands for Societe (Company) Acumulateur (rechargeable battery) Fixee (fixed, stationary) Traction (mobility).