“Li-Metal’s overall strategy is to gain a foothold and then grow,” CEO Jastrzebski told MINING.COM.
Convinced that lithium metal batteries are the next big thing, the Canadian company has developed a lithium metal production process that takes lithium carbonate, in recycled or virgin powder or granular form, and dissolves it in salt. molten. This is then electrolyzed in a membrane electrolysis cell which divides the lithium carbonate into technical grade lithium metal and into gaseous effluents. The technical grade lithium metal is further refined to create a high performance battery grade metal.
According to Jastrzebski, this process is less expensive than existing lithium production processes, can use household chemical sources, and is more durable.
“Our production of lithium metal uses a different raw material; lithium carbonate, rather than lithium chloride, which is very advantageous. This requires a two-compartment cell with separate electrolytes for the cathode and anode, so the cell structure and operating philosophies are quite different from the conventional process, ”the manager explained. “The only similarity is that, as a conventional process, it is a molten salt electrolysis process. “
MDC: What makes it more sustainable?
Jastrzebski: One of the biggest advantages of our process is that it avoids the electrolysis of lithium chloride. When you electrolyze lithium chloride, you release about five tonnes of toxic chlorine gas for every tonne of metal you produce. This manifests itself both in fugitive emissions in the plant and in waste gases which must be captured and treated. By eliminating this source of emissions, we are able to reduce the environmental impact of the by-products of the process. Likewise, because our process does not require sophisticated gas handling equipment, we eliminate the energy and materials associated with its operation.
MDC: What makes it cheaper?
Jastrzebski: First, most of the high purity lithium chloride is made from lithium carbonate, so by using lithium carbonate directly, we eliminate a conversion step which is normally added to the input cost of the raw material . Second, because we don’t need to build and operate the same sophisticated gas-processing equipment, we save both the initial plant construction cost and the operating costs compared to the plant. conventional process.
New anode technology
As part of the development of its lithium metal production technology, Li-Metal is also working on new lithium anode technology.
The feedstock for both developments is obtained on the open market, but once commercial scale operations begin, the intention is to source sustainable North American feedstocks, including lithium carbonate at from recycled batteries.
Jastrzebski explained that the company’s anode technology uses a roll-to-roll deposition process that involves unwinding a large-format micron-scale material from the roll of substrate and then passing the substrate through one or more zones. deposit where lithium metal is applied with a combination of other materials. From there, the completed anode is wound onto the product roll and packaged in argon gas for shipping, battery production, or storage.
“The basis of our anode products is roll-to-roll physical vapor deposition – this is a technology that has been successfully applied in the production of low cost large format metal products for decades,” said the CEO. “Our approach is unique because of the variety of materials that we can deposit in a single pass. This gives us the ability to impart a variety of properties to anode materials which can be used to improve the electrochemical or economic performance of the materials.
Li-Metal’s lithium anode technology, according to Jastrzebski, uses less lithium for every square meter of anode compared to alternatives available today.
“Existing lithium metal anodes are made by first extruding and rolling lithium into thin sheets. They can make thick sheets anywhere from 40 to 150 microns, but it gets expensive and difficult to scale as you approach the thicknesses needed for next-gen batteries, ”he said. “Our technology does the opposite – it becomes more economical as the anode thickness decreases and the cell size increases – which is exactly the destination of next-generation batteries.”
MDC: What are Li-Metal’s plans once the patents for the anode technology and the lithium metal production process have been approved?
Jastrzebski: We have a healthy roadmap for technology and product development and we are continually expanding our patent portfolio – we have filed additional patent applications this year, so we don’t really consider patent approval to be a state final, but rather as part of our ongoing process.
We will also proliferate our technologies. We plan to supply and potentially license our anode production technology to battery and electric vehicle manufacturers, supply lithium metal consumables to technology operators, and continue to supply high quality anode materials for high performance batteries with pre-commercial and early commercial production cycles to power the pipeline.
Our key next steps are to commission our in-house advanced anode materials laboratory at our plant in Markham, Ontario. This will soon be followed by the completion of our pilot roll-to-roll anode production facility in Rochester, NY, where we will industrialize the research carried out in the anode lab. We also expect the completion of our new pilot lithium metal production facility in Markham in the coming months. Longer term, we aim to complete the engineering of our prototype commercial scale anode production equipment and facility in 2022.
MDC: What is the place of Li-Metal in the supply chain of new generation batteries?
Jastrzebski: Li-Metal can be considered as an intermediary supplier. Our value chain starts with bulk lithium carbonate and ends with rolls of high performance lithium metal anodes ready for use in battery cells. We are a customer of chemical manufacturers and a supplier of battery manufacturers. We can also potentially supply intermediate products such as metallic lithium to other industries.
The next-generation battery supply chain requires a completely evolved supply chain that doesn’t even exist yet. Producing next-generation batteries for electric vehicles with existing technologies can be expensive, as it uses more lithium than needed. Ultimately, our technologies develop the building blocks of next-generation batteries, creating electric vehicles that are more profitable, longer and safer.