Altech, led by its research and development team based in its Perth, Western Australia laboratory, has achieved extremely positive results in relation to its battery material coating technology for use within the electric vehicle battery market. The R&D is focused on coating of high-purity alumina (HPA) on both silicon and graphite, for inclusion within electric vehicle battery anodes.
A 2020 public statement by US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, stated that its aim is to increase the amount of silicon in its batteries to achieve step-change improvements in energy density and battery life. A higher energy capacity lithium-ion battery would translate not just to significant cost benefits, but also to potentially increased range in the case of electric vehicles.
However, the industry has faced challenges achieving this. Unresolved obstacles for using silicon in lithium-ion battery anodes include silicon particle swelling; prohibitive first-cycle-capacity-loss of up to 50%; and rapid battery degradation.
- A Pre-feasibility study for the construction of a 10,000tpa Silumina Anodes battery materials coating plant in Germany has been completed with robust project economics:
- Pre-tax NPV8 US$ 507 million
- Internal Rate of Return (IRR) 40%
- Payback (full rate) 3.1 years
- EBITDA US$ 63 million p.a.
- Capital cost US$ 95 million
- Production costs – US$ 12.20/kg
- Avg. sale price – US$18.50/kg
- Gross Margin – 34%
ALTECH ACHIEVES BREAKTHROUGH 30% HIGHER ENERGY DENSITY ANODE IN LITHIUM-ION BATTERY
On 25 November 2021, Altech announced a significant breakthrough in lithium-ion battery technology by its R&D laboratory based in Perth, Western Australia.
After almost 12 months of challenging work, Altech finally “cracked the silicon barrier” and successfully produced and tested a series of lithium-ion battery anode materials that have ~30% higher retention capacity compared to conventional lithium-ion battery anode materials. To achieve its breakthrough, Altech successfully combined silicon particles that had been treated with its innovative proprietary technology, with regular battery grade graphite, to produce a lithium-ion battery electrode containing a composite graphite / silicon anode. When energised, these materials held 30% more capacity compared to a conventional graphite only anode material.
The materials were then subjected to a series of tests over a period of time, including charge and discharge cycling. The previously unresolved obstacles for using silicon in lithium-ion battery anodes, which were: silicon particle swelling; prohibitive first-cycle-capacity-loss of up to 50%; and rapid battery degradation, appeared to be improved significantly during the laboratory testing of Altech’s composite graphite/silicon batteries.
The lithium-ion battery industry has recognised that the required step change to increase lithium-ion battery energy density and reduced costs is to introduce silicon in battery anodes, as silicon has ~ ten times the energy retention capacity compared to graphite. Silicon metal has been identified as the most promising anode material for the next generation of lithium-ion batteries. However, until now silicon was unable to be used in commercial lithium-ion batteries due to the critical challenges outlined above.The industry has been in a race to crack the silicon barrier.
Altech’s potentially game changing technology has demonstrated that silicon particles can be modified to resolve the capacity fading caused by both the swelling and first-cycle-loss capacity problems.
Altech’s lithium-ion battery anode material averaged energy retention capacity of ~430 mAh/g, compared to a normal lithium-ion battery anode at around 330 mAh/g, being 30% higher. Importantly, the Altech batteries demonstrated good stability and cycling performance.
Phase 2 of Altech’s planned research and development program will see the Company strive to improve on the 30% energy increase achieved in this first phase.
Altech’s R&D team working on its proprietary battery materials coating technology in its Perth lab laboratory
ALTECH PROGRESES WITH COMMERCIALISATION OF ITS BATTERY MATERIALS COATING TECHNOLOGY
Altech has acquired a ~14-hectare industrial site within the Schwarze Pumpe Industrial Park in Saxony, Germany, for the battery materials project. The site will house a battery materials coating pilot plant, as well as a proposed 10,000 tpa battery materials project, designed to produce Altech’s silicon graphite anode using its proprietary HPA coating technology. The land location is highly strategic to the European lithium-ion battery and EV market.
Location of the Schwarze Pumpe Industrial Park in Germany and the ~10Ha industrial plant site
The Schwarze Pumpe Industrial Park is located in north-eastern Saxony and is well serviced by existing infrastructure including reticulated electricity and natural gas, rail and roads. The industrial park is 120 km from Berlin and 78 km from Dresden. This area, in the eastern part of Germany, is considered the new automotive nucleus in Europe and hosts production sites for Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche, Daimler and Tesla, as well as a number of key resource and technology players within the value chain of lithium-ion batteries. The region is a leading engineering training ground and has excellent research facilities including the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano-systems, which is very focussed on ceramic (HPA) nano technology in energy storage.
Map of European Gigafactories. Announced Lithium Ion Battery Cell Production Sites.
Mr. Thomas Schmidt (Saxony State Minister for Development), Mr Uwe Ahrens (Altech) in front of Dock3
Dignitaries looking over the proposed pilot plant site in Dock 3.
Figure 5: Altech’s German director Uwe Ahrens speaking to German Media
GERMAN BATTERY MATERIALS PILOT PLANT CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY
Altech has appointed German engineering firm Kuttner GmbH & Co to construct the pilot plant in Germany, to demonstrate Altech’s proprietary battery materials alumina coating technology. Construction has now commenced. The pilot plant is designed to produce up to 36,680 kilograms of anode grade coated battery material per year (120 kg per day). Altech Industries Germany GmbH (AIG), which is 75% owned by Altech and 25% owned by Frankfurt Stock Exchange listed Altech Advanced Materials AG, holds the exclusive rights for use of Altech’s battery materials coating technology within the European Union.
The pilot plant design is intended for installation in the Dock3 facility adjacent to Altech’s designated site at the Schwarze Pumpe Industrial Park. Altech has secured approximately 300m2 of floorspace within the Dock3 where the pilot plant will be located. Also, an on-site analytical laboratory is planned for the pilot plant. The laboratory will allow for the rapid assessment of pilot plant product purity and monitor physical parameters which will enable changes in processing parameters and operational setpoints to be modified quickly, as required. The Dock3 space is already connected to all required utilities and includes office space for the project and operations team.
Leased bays in Dock3
The pilot plant design has been separated into two distinct areas of processing; precursor production, and battery material coating & calcination. Precursor production equipment shall be operated in batch mode, producing approximately 10kg per batch. Production is sufficient to feed the downstream anode material coating stage for approximately 30hrs of continuous production. Due to the nature of the metallurgical leach and crystallisation processes, and the high purity requirements of the plant end product, the process equipment shall be manufactured using fluoropolymer and ceramic materials. The design for the pilot plant also leverages the knowledge that Altech and selected equipment suppliers have developed during the design of its Johor HPA production facility. Centrifuge, filtration and calcination equipment shall be supplied by equipment vendors of full-scale designs to enable the assessment of operating parameters and sizing scale up calculations.
Pilot Plant Design
The coating & calcination section of the pilot plant has been designed to operate continuously with minimal shutdowns, to ensure consistency in the product material. Final product purity has been the major design consideration when selecting process equipment and the main materials of construction. Production from the battery material pilot plant shall be used to confirm Altech’s process consistently achieves product purity requirements, optimise equipment design and process parameters for a full scale 10,000 tpa production plant, and to produce qualification samples for any potential joint venture offtake partners and end users.
Pilot Plant Equipment
Küttner ENGINEERING AWARDED GERMAN BATTERY MATERIALS PILOT PLANT ENGINEERING CONTRACT
Altech has awarded German engineering firm Küttner GmbH & Co. KG (Küttner) the contract for final plant engineering of the battery materials coating pilot plant, to be constructed in Saxony, Germany. Küttner has commenced engineering work, with procurement and construction of the pilot plant to follow. The pilot plant is designed to produce 120kg per day of coated battery anode material, which will be made available to selected European battery manufacturers and auto-makers.
Küttner is a German-based industrial plant engineering and EPC contractor, with strong experience in design, procurement, project and construction management and plant commissioning across a range of industries. They have previously completed metallurgical plant, water and off-gas treatment projects in Germany. Küttner bringing valuable local knowledge to the execution of the project.
The appointment of Küttner as the pilot plant engineering contractor is the next step in the development of the plant at the Dock3 facility, in Saxony Germany, and to progress the Company’s ground-breaking technology to produce alumina coated battery anode materials.
LAUNCH OF “SILUMINA ANODES” NAME FOR SILICON GRAPHITE ANODES
Altech has launched and registered the product name Silumina AnodesTM for its alumina coated composite silicon/graphite lithium-ion battery anode material.
Based on Altech’s test work, its Silumina AnodesTM product is expected to provide for the manufacture of battery anodes, that when incorporated into a lithium-ion battery result in a battery that has higher energy retention capacity by volume and weight, compared to a battery using the incumbent graphite only battery anode. The key differentiation point of Silumina AnodesTM is that it will be a composite material of silicon and graphite particles that have been coated with alumina, using Altech’s proprietary alumina coating technology.
BATTERY MATERIALS COATING PLANT PROJECT RECEIVES GREEN STATUS
Altech, as part of its preliminary feasibility study (PFS) in relation to the German battery materials coating plant project, engaged the Centre of International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO), based in Oslo, Norway, to conduct an independent evaluation of the Company’s proposed battery materials coating plant. The plant is being designed with a specific focus on minimising environmental impact, and in accordance with prevailing German, European and International environmental standards.
CICERO’s review resulted in the rating of “Medium Green” being awarded to the project. This positive project evaluation, formally termed a “Green Bond Second Opinion”, confirms that the project, which is currently the subject of a PFS, would be suitable for future green bond financing.
In determining the overall project framework rating of “Medium Green”, CICERO assessed the proposed governance procedures and transparency as “Good” and confirmed that the project aligns with all green bond principles. In assessing the proposed plant design and coating process, CICERO noted “The plant has near zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions as the plant’s processes, including steam generation, are fully electrified, and it will use renewable electricity sourced from on-site solar panels and renewable energy certificates”. Although CICERO acknowledges the project is still in the development phase, in assessing governance and transparency considerations, it has encouraged Altech “to implement and enforce a robust supply chain sustainability policy, as well as to engage with its suppliers to address their sustainability impacts”, given that >90% of the plant carbon footprint is attributable to plant feedstock such as graphite and silicon.
GERMAN BATTERY MATERIALS PROJECT SECURES FUTURE EU FEEDSTOCK SUPPLY
Altech has executed two Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with two European based suppliers of lithium-ion battery grade anode materials. The MoUs are for the parties to work together for the future supply of these materials to a battery material plant that is to be constructed in Saxony. Germany.
For graphite, Altech has executed a MoU with SGL Carbon GmbH (SGL), one of the leading producers of graphite in Europe. SGL Carbon is supporting Altech’s development of high purity alumina coated graphite materials targeted for use by the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery industry. In addition, the MoU details the potential future relationship whereby SGL would supply uncoated synthetic graphite anode material to AIG battery materials plant in Saxony. The indicative, non-binding volumes and prices set out in the MoU will be adopted in the PFS financial model. SGL Carbon is a world leader in the development and production of carbon-based solutions and reported sales of 919 million Euros in 2020. Only SGL supplied graphite has been used by Altech in test work conducted at its Perth R&D laboratory.
For silicon, Altech have a supply MoU with Ferroglobe Innovation S.L. (Ferroglobe), a leading producer of high purity metallurgical silicon in Europe. The executed non-binding MoU details the relationship whereby Ferroglobe would supply silicon anode material to the battery material plant in Saxony. Ferroglobe is a leading producer of silicon metal with a proven ability to create new solutions and applications using state-of-the-art technology to drive innovation. It has technologies to produce high purity grade silicon and is specifically developing tailor made silicon powders for the anode of lithium-ion batteries. Only Ferroglobe supplied silicon has been used by Altech in test work conducted at its Perth research and development laboratory.
By securing high quality graphite and silicon from these leading European based materials suppliers, transport emissions attributed to feedstock shipments are reduced, supplier production facilities have the potential to utilise the extensive green electricity market in Europe. Importantly, these suppliers will, like Altech, be governed by the same stringent European Union (EU) environmental regulations. Both companies have a strong corporate focus on sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of their operations. Finally, the selection of EU based feedstock suppliers is expected to reduce any potential future supply chain risks, when compared with non-European suppliers.