A novel method of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries could potentially be on course to make a market impact after Novonix (ASX: NVX) announced it had found a breakthrough.
The breakthrough method applies to manufacturing both battery anode and cathode materials using dry particle microgranulation (DPMG).
Courtesy of a partnership with the Canadian Government in tandem with the NSERC Industrial Research Chair program led by Prof Mark Obrovac from Dalhousie University, Novonix funded research with a view of improving battery yield and cost-efficiency.
According to the company, DPMG provides a method for synthesising highly engineered particles through the consolidation of fine materials – that would otherwise be wasted – into much smaller particles measured in microns and suitable for use in lithium-ion batteries.
More broadly, Novonix hopes its research and consequent patent application will advance its PUREgraphite manufacturing process and create a competitive advantage over other battery manufacturers.
Incidentally, Novonix received an operational boost courtesy of the US Government after COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders in Tennessee were lifted on 1 May 2020.
The policy change allowed Novonix’s PUREgraphite operation in Chattanooga, Tennessee to be reopened on 4 May 2020 and for its anode manufacturing plant to restart production within one week.
“There are immediate opportunities to utilise this technique within our PUREgraphite business, as well as the ability to pursue unique cathode material synthesis methods that can decrease the cost of cathode active material such as NMC,” said Novonix chief operating officer Dr Chris Burns.
Boost for environment, cost reductions
The research program and its results were described in a paper published earlier this week titled “Engineered Particle Synthesis by Dry Particle Microgranulation”, where the authors, including Professor Obrovac, explained how to produce spherical graphite for use in lithium-ion batteries while maintaining 100% yield – in stark contrast to current methods that incur significant yield losses and increase manufacturing costs.
“This method for particle synthesis shows great promise in making both anode and cathode materials,” said Novonix’s managing director Philip St Baker.
“DPMG provides an incredible opportunity to improve upon graphite manufacturing processes with higher yield, lower cost and improved particle performance and we are excited about deploying this technology to continue to further enhance the competitive advantage of our PUREgraphite manufacturing process,” Mr St Baker said.
Technology can be used in creating cathode materials
In addition to creating graphite particles with no waste, DPMG can also be used to synthesise cathode materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt (NMC) through a dry process with no wastewater or materials.
Yet again, the rationale behind pushing further development is to create higher yield, lower cost, better performance, but, equally importantly, to reduce the environmental impact of production and to make project development less cost prohibitive.
Novonix said that existing facilities producing 6,500kg of NMC per day with standard methods can generate 99,000 litres of wastewater per day and create fine particle waste resulting in both negative economic and environmental impacts.
Such impacts tend to lead to higher costs in the long-term, in both financial terms for manufacturers, but also, for broader society due to a polluted natural environment.
“I believe that dry particle microgranulation represents a breakthrough in reducing the cost, waste, and environmental impact of advanced powder production. In addition, it enables the bulk synthesis of never before seen designer materials, which could lead to enhanced performance,” Prof Obrovac said.
Novonix shares reacted to this morning’s news by trading up 38% to $0.45.