Shares in Altech Chemicals soared by 50 per cent in intraday trading after the ASX-listed company delivered a breakthrough in utilising silicon in lithium-ion batteries. Altech says it has broken through the “silicon barrier” by successfully applying its proprietary coating technology to produce a series of lithium-ion battery anode materials with a 30 per cent higher retention capacity than existing anode materials.
The ground-breaking development comes on the back of nearly a year of testing at the company’s laboratory in Perth, Western Australia.
Altech says it has now successfully combined silicon particles, treated with its innovative technology, with regular battery grade graphite to produce a lithium-ion battery electrode containing a composite graphite-silicon anode.
When energised, Altech’s newly developed materials achieved 30 per cent more capacity than conventional graphite only anode material according to the company.
Altech’s graphite-silicone anodes also achieved good stability and cycling performance according to management.
To date, metallurgical silicon has not been suitable for use in lithium-ion batteries due to two major technological barriers. Firstly, silicon expands by up to 300 per cent in volume during battery operation, causing ‘swelling’, fracturing and battery failure. Secondly, silicon deactivates a large percentage of the lithium ions in a battery, referred to as ‘first-cycle loss’, resulting in reduced performance and battery life.
However, Altech believes its new technological accomplishment could change all that.
It says the two major hurdles preventing the use of silicon in batteries appear to have been “substantially overcome” during testing of its composite graphite-silicon battery anodes.
According to Altech, its technology has shown silicon particles can be modified to resolve capacity fading caused by both swelling and first-cycle loss.
This major achievement is not just a significant breakthrough for Altech, but also for the lithium-ion battery industry generally. Especially so given the 2020 public statement by US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, which said 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 30% higher energy capacity lithium-ion battery would translate not just to significant cost benefits, but also to potentially increased range for electric vehicles.
Electric vehicle heavyweight, Tesla recently declared that a critical step to reducing the cost of lithium-ion batteries and improving their energy density is the implementation of more silicon in battery anodes.
Silicon has about ten times the energy retention capacity when compared to graphite, according to Altech.
In reference to the use of silicon in lithium-ion batteries, Tesla’s irrepressible Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk recently said: “this is the most promising anode material”.
Altech now plans to take its findings to another level with a research and development program that will seek to improve on the 30 per cent energy increase already attained in testing.
Construction of a pilot plant to produce the company’s silicon-graphite material in larger quantities may also be on the cards.
Notably, Altech’s 75 per cent owned German subsidiary, Altech Industries Germany has already launched a pre-feasibility study evaluating the potential of a 10,000 tonne per annum HPA coating plant in the European nation.
Altech also recently opened an advanced battery materials research and development centre in Saxony, Germany where it aspires to construct its coating plant.
Interestingly, automotive giants Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche and Daimler also host their production operations in Saxony.
Altech’s German venture appears strategically positioned on the doorsteps of Europe’s booming lithium-ion battery industry that is being fuelled by electric vehicle uptake in the region and around the world.
A recent report by leading international provider of business research, BloombergNEF determined that some 58 per cent of all new manufactured vehicles by 2040 are projected to be either electric or hybrid. In Germany alone, electric vehicles are forecast to make up nearly 40 per cent of total sales by 2025, the report concluded.
Altech’s technological breakthrough could be a game changer for the lithium-ion battery industry. Its shrewdly located German operations may place the company at the forefront of an electric automotive revolution that is showing no signs of stopping for breath.
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