Researchers at Dalhousie University in Canada have developed a way of making battery materials that dramatically reduces waste.
Current methods of producing nanoscale particles can be wasteful and limited in their composition. A typical production facility making 6,500 kg of lithium manganese nickel cobalt oxides per day can consume 99,000 litres of water and produce fine particles that become waste material. Natural battery graphite production is also highly wasteful, with 40 to 70 per cent of the mined graphite being typically lost as waste.
The method developed at Dalhousie consolidates nanoscale particles into particles that are tens of microns in diameter to be used in existing battery manufacturing lines. This process, called dry particle microgranulation (or DPMG), allows for the type of precise control of particle internal composition variation, shape, and morphology that is not possible by previous methods.
Dr. Mark Obrovac, a Professor in Dalhousie University’s Department of Chemistry and the NSERC/Novonix Industrial Research Chair in Metal Ion Batteries and his team showed that Li-ion battery graphite and metal oxide particles can be made at 100 per cent yield with no water or waste. The process is being patented under a deal with Novonix, a spin off company from the university set up in 2013.
“I believe that dry particle microgranulation represents breakthrough in reducing the cost, waste, and environmental impact of advanced powder production,” said Obrovac. “In addition, it enables the bulk synthesis of never before seen designer materials, which could lead to enhanced performance. In the Li-ion battery field, I believe this technology shows great promise for reducing battery costs and increasing battery performance; while simultaneously reducing the waste and environmental impact of battery production. I believe that benefits from this technology could also be realized in pharmaceuticals and structural materials; and other fields that utilize engineered particles.”
Next: Layered graphite battery materials
The team also discovered that the graphite they have been able to create with DPMG is in layers, similar to the layering of an onion. This type of graphite has only been made in nanoscale processes but is the focus of many research groups around the world to boost the performance of battery materials.
Novonix’s sister company, PUREgraphite, is a commercial producer of graphite battery materials for electric vehicle and energy storage systems.
“Decreasing battery costs is critical in increasing the adoption of technologies such as electric vehicles and grid storage systems and an active area of work for Novonix,” said Chris Burns, President and CEO of Novonix. “This paper is especially unique as it presents a process with the opportunity to decrease cost in active material manufacturing for batteries in both anode and cathode materials. Novonix has been impressed with the high calibre of research coming from Dr. Obrovac’s group since starting to work together in 2018 and is excited about our continued collaboration.”
Another professor at Dalhousie, Dr. Jeff Dahn, works closely with electric car maker Tesla on the new battery technology set to be announced later this week.
“The ability to be able to synthesize both state-of-the-art positive and negative electrode materials with this method is truly exciting,” said Dahn, who is the Tesla Canada Industrial Research Chair. “I believe that the onion-like morphology of natural graphite particles made from what would normally be considered waste is extremely important and could potentially lead to the best and least expensive graphites for lithium-ion cells. I believe that the ability to synthesize appropriately-sized dense particles of NMC and other positive electrode materials in a completely waste-free process, unlike the current methods used today by industry, has huge potential.”
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