Solid state batteries are regarded by many as a game changer. Toyota has promised to have solid state lithium cells in cars by 2020, and Dyson bought solid state battery developer Sakti3 in 2015 after it announced that it was close to a battery with twice the density of current models at a fifth of the cost, while being non-flammable, longer lasting and quicker to charge. Both companies are looking to launch these products in around two years, and while development has some way to go, it’s looking pretty certain that, at least at some point, solid state lithium cells will be commercially viable.
Within the resulting development space, Nano One Materials Corp. is working with a tier 1 automotive supplier to advance the solid state dream. Nano One proposes a cobalt-free high-voltage spinel (HVS) and nickel-rich NMC cathode manufactured using its own superior technology. HVS differs from other cathodes because it is made from lithium, manganese and nickel, without the high cost and supply chain risk of cobalt. The project has so far led to two patent applications and HVS production is ready for pilot scale demonstration.
Additionally, operating the recently constructed pilot plant has enabled the company to complete preliminary engineering plans for a modular 3,300 tonne per year cathode production unit that could supply materials for around 24,000 electric vehicle batteries. Nano One has also begun work on detailed plant engineering in support of technology licensing proposals to global industrial interests, and coatings and additives are being developed to enhance durability, stability and compatibility with solid electrolytes. The flexible nature of the company’s nano-engineering technology means it is able to respond to new market demands such as this far more quickly than others.
Nano One looks likely to be taken up into the supply chain simply because its technology cuts costs by up to 50% while delivering more robust cathode materials. The benefits for the electric vehicle and consumer electronics markets are too great to ignore (fewer battery cells, less weight, less cost extended range, longer lifetime or better warranties, greater storage, faster charging, more power etc.). Even the more promising cathode materials in development require processes with up to 100 steps spanning 4-7 days, but Nano One’s process can take less than a day with up to 75% fewer steps, and crucially, does not depend on costly lithium hydroxide.
The company can make HVS and other high performance cathodes using lithium carbonate or hydroxide, giving its process an advantage over manufacturing methods constrained to lithium hydroxide. As a result of the currently expected high growth in the battery sector, the price of lithium hydroxide has increased far in excess of its carbonated counterpart; it’s this sort of reactivity that makes Nano One such a robust investment option. The company is resistant to almost all of the market changes that make everyone else so vulnerable. Cobalt bad? No problem. Lithium too expensive? Fine. Manganese shortage? Whatevs.
The market has shown serious confidence in Nano One this year, with share prices making an almighty leap throughout January, although they’ve been on the up since the beginning of 2016. But whichever direction technology markets may take us over the next few decades, we expect that Nano One will be heavily involved, and these are very much early days.