The drive for a more circular Li-ion battery industry

By Sustainability Matters

Magnis Energy Technologies (MET), an Australian vertically integrated lithium-ion battery technology company, identifies downstream industry competition driving innovation in the lithium-ion battery sector. This innovation can also act as a catalyst for Australian domestic incentives and help address industry inefficiencies.

Through its Tanzanian graphite mining project, US-based graphite anode active material (AAM) plant and lithium-ion battery operation iM3NY, MET is at the forefront of the graphite industry, which is being propelled by the demand for Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EVs).

Dr Jawahar Nerkar, MET Director of Battery Technologies, notes competition is driving the sector.

“The electrification of the transportation sector alone is expected to account for 80% of the global battery demand by 2030,” Nerkar said. “EV manufacturers are competing to provide consumers with optimum-range vehicles powered by high-capacity, high-energy-density, safe, sustainable and cost-effective Li-ion batteries. To do this, EV manufacturers are forming strategic partnerships with innovative Li-ion battery manufacturers, who in turn are employing advanced battery chemistries, battery pack designs and processing technologies in their batteries.”

Nerkar observes that competition-driven innovation is pushing battery manufacturers to use next-gen materials such as nickel-rich cathode materials and higher loading of silicon in graphite composite anode in batteries to enhance energy density, while next-gen technologies offering fast charging capability are also sought.

“The commercial viability of alternative high-energy-density technologies such as high-voltage cathodes, lithium-sulfur, solid-state electrolytes and lithium metal anode is being explored,” Nerkar said. “At the same time, solvent-free dry electrode manufacturing and cell-to-pack battery assembly are being pursued as processing and cell engineering battery technologies respectively.

Graphite demand to improve inefficiencies

The demand for EVs and lithium-ion batteries is increasing graphite demand, which is poised to surpass the capacities of existing graphite mines — with supply forecast to be in deficit by 2025, according to Macquarie’s Graphite Market Outlook.1

“Irrespective of a battery’s cathode chemistry over the coming decade, graphite will remain the predominant AAM in Li-ion batteries; therefore, securing the supply of these critical components to meet demand and mitigate production delays is crucial,” said Nerkar, who believes enabling a circular lithium-ion battery economy will reduce the burden on securing raw materials and improve inefficiencies. “Scrap and waste formation, a major Li-ion battery process inefficiency, will benefit from the adoption of more sustainable solutions, such as recycling and repurposing battery components.”

Energy use and environmental impacts are significant issues in upstream lithium-ion battery production. “The majority of battery raw material production takes place in China, with the refinement dependent on energy- and toxic chemical-intensive processes predominantly powered by fossil fuels,” Nerkar said. “Using renewable energy sources over conventional power sources across the whole Li-ion battery supply chain can help mitigate these inefficiencies.”

Domestic incentives

Government policy plays a crucial role in the development of the lithium-ion battery sector. International policies including the US Inflation Reduction Act, the US Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EU Green Deal, Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy and India’s FAME II Strategy are bolstering the international market. For companies under the US Inflation Reduction Act, financial incentives are dependent on non-Chinese graphite being used in projects, driving continued global opportunities for graphite mining and Li-ion battery development.

“Like the US Inflation Reduction Act and the European Commission’s incentives, Australian federal agencies should investigate equivalent incentives for domestic battery cell manufacturing,” said MET Chair Frank Poullas. “Supporting businesses across all sectors of the lithium battery value chain will attract investors with certainty around the viability of the commercial-scale manufacturing. Supportive international trade agreements that will benefit Australian manufacturers’ access to North American, European and Asian markets also warrant discussion.”

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