After 12 months research and development, Altech Chemicals (ASX: ATC) believes it has “cracked the silicon barrier” with the production of high retention lithium-ion battery anode materials.
The breakthrough took place at the company’s laboratory in Perth, where Altech combined specially-treated silicon particles with regular battery-grade graphite to produce a lithium-ion electrode containing a composite graphite-silicon anode.
When energised, the new materials offered approximately 30% higher retention capacity compared to conventional lithium-ion battery materials.
The materials were then subjected to a series of tests over a period of time, including charge and discharge cycling, and demonstrated good stability and cycling performance.
Altech said previous obstacles for using silicon in lithium-ion battery anodes – including silicon particle swelling, first-cycle capacity loss of up to 50% and rapid battery degradation – appeared to have improved during laboratory testing.
Lithium-ion game changer
Managing director Iggy Tan said the breakthrough was a game changer for the lithium-ion battery industry.
“This is a major achievement … a 30% higher energy capacity lithium-ion battery would translate to significant cost benefits and potentially increased range in the case of electric vehicles,” he said.
“Phase two of our research and development program will see us strive to improve on this energy increase and also focus on the development of our pilot plant [in Germany].”
Industry step change
Industry research has recognised that the step change to increasing lithium-ion battery energy density and reducing costs is the introduction of silicon into battery anodes.
Silicon has approximately 10 times the energy retention capacity of graphite and has been recognised by business magnate Elon Musk as the “most promising anode material” for the next generation of lithium-ion batteries.
Until recently, silicon was unable to be used in commercial lithium-ion batteries due in part to its ability to expand up to 300% in volume during battery charging which causes the particles to swell, fracture and ultimately kill a battery.
Silicon was also found to deactivate a high percentage of the lithium-ions in a battery (known as first cycle loss), immediately reducing battery performance and life.
The industry has been in a race to solve these technical challenges and crack the silicon barrier.
Last year, US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla said it aimed to increase the amount of silicon in its batteries to realise step change improvements in energy density and battery life.
For this to be achieved, high energy capacity metallurgical silicon would need to be introduced into anode chemistry.