Dry Rooms Are Energy Intensive
Early dry room providers learned how to design and install a manufacturing environment that was safe, reliable and consistent. These early systems, though small, consumed prodigious amounts of energy as the tradeoff to maintain the very critical humidity/dew point environmental conditions. With time and experience, the dry room providers have been able to reduce energy consumption by over 30% with new proprietary dehumidification and room control systems that are available today, options for regeneration of the desiccant, and by energy-efficient dry room designs.
The lithium battery industry is highly cost-competitive. Since the dry room is a large up-front investment for the owner, there seems to be a growing tendency for some new suppliers to offer their dry room product at significantly lower costs, in order to win contracts. The experienced dry room suppliers have avoided projects where time constraints, cost pressure or other facility design issues could cause the design and construction of the dry rooms to be compromised, and thus would not allow them to guarantee their dry room performance over the long term. Due to the surge in demand for the production of large, high volume facilities, some new players have entered the dry room marketplace that has abundant experience in clean rooms, environmental rooms or HVAC systems but has little or no direct dry room design and construction experience. Some have reallocated the resources used to design semiconductor clean rooms (which is a declining market) to try to penetrate the growing dry room market. They face a steep learning curve, similar to what the now experienced dry room providers faced when they entered the market 20+ years ago. However, unlike their predecessors, mistakes made now would have a much more profound negative impact as the size of the planned facilities are significantly larger and the amount of product affected by a single event is far greater. Mistakes in design or installation, in turn, can create major problems for the owners of the facilities, including poor battery quality, reduced capacity, production downtime, energy inefficiency and even potential catastrophic losses. The costs for mistakes and poor performance are much greater now because the lithium-ion battery manufacturing plants being built today are very large with very high levels of production. These are not pilot projects but true high volume manufacturing facilities that are semi or fully automated where even a slight problem with the dry room performance will have a significant impact on the quality and quantity of batteries manufactured.