ASX-listed Lithium Australia continues to kick goals with its unique approach to lithium-ion battery innovation with its latest modelling demonstrating improved cost efficiencies from its proprietary lithium-ferro-phosphate technology. The company now believes it has overcome all the significant cost, safety and performance hurdles it needs to produce a better product than its competitors in the expanding global electric vehicle battery market.
Lithium Australia continues to kick goals with its unique approach to lithium-ion battery innovation, demonstrating improved cost efficiencies from its proprietary lithium-ferro-phosphate, or “LFP” technology. The latest modelling of the new process suggests a net cost reduction of 5 to 10 per cent in the cost of LFP chemical inputs could be achieved via in-house iron oxalate production.
The company now believes it has overcome all the significant cost, safety and performance hurdles it needs to produce a better product than its competitors in the expanding global electric vehicle, or “EV” battery market.
VSPC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lithium Australia, recently completed successful trials for the production of high-purity lithium-ion battery cathode powder from various low-cost iron ore and iron waste sources. Aside from net cost reductions of up to 10 per cent, the trial also delivered excellent electrochemical performance of the LFP produced from VSPC’s battery-grade iron oxalate, equivalent to LFP created using commercial iron oxalate.
The process was also highly effective in eliminating impurities allowing for inputs of variable quality, including iron-rich waste from industrial sources which can then be used as feed for the process.
Lithium Australia proactively pursues a strategic approach to recycling of mining and battery waste to reduce costs and improve mining and manufacturing sustainability. The company seeks to utilise three key waste streams in its battery manufacturing – iron by-product from titanium oxide production, unprocessed lithium from spodumene concentrate production and from the recycling of used batteries.
VSPC has also been trialling the addition of manganese to LFP cathode powder aiming to overcome LFP battery energy density limitations compared to the more widely used nickel-cobalt-manganese, or “NCM” batteries. The advantage of LFP batteries is their lower input costs and better safety performance. Improving LFP energy density – how much energy a battery contains in proportion to its weight – is a critical hurdle if LFP is to challenge NCM as the dominant battery in the global electric vehicle market.
The company said lithium-manganese-ferro-phosphate, or “LMFP” cells provide greater energy density than standard LFP cells. The higher voltage of the LMFP cells results in an energy density increase of up to 25 per cent when compared with the LFP only cells.
"Safety, cost and performance will be the drivers for the lithium-ion batteries of the future. We are already witnessing a significant shift in the direction of LFP to optimise those important characteristics. The ability to utilise low-cost feed materials for the production of LFP batteries puts Australia one step closer to becoming a competitive location for battery production.”
VSPC’s experiments to optimise the iron source, acid/reagent consumption and process conditions are ongoing, with the aim of maximising both iron recovery and iron oxalate quality while minimising manufacturing costs. Pilot-scale manufacture of iron oxalate from iron ores and iron-rich wastes will also continue, with the iron oxalate used to manufacture LFP for testing in commercial format lithium-ion batteries.
The next stage of the trial will also include pilot-scale manufacture of LFP using lithium phosphate as an alternative to lithium carbonate. It will be co-funded by the Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre - a not-for-profit organisation established by the Federal Government to support the development of world-leading advanced manufacturing in Australia.
Lithium Australia said LFP is currently increasing its share of the global battery market and the commercialisation of VSPC’s LMFP technology will provide consumers with the best combination of safety, cost and energy density.
A little over 6 months ago, the company announced it had finalised a strategy for entering the global commercial battery market, which includes initial production of up to 1,200 tonnes per annum of LFP cathode powders for China and to test markets elsewhere. Discussions have been held with cathode producers for the supply of an additional 500-1000 tonnes per annum in various jurisdictions by 2022.
In China there is already a strong market for LFP battery-powered trucks and buses. Subsidies are also driving consumers towards lower-priced passenger EVs in which the use of LFP batteries dominates.
Serendipitously, shortly after Lithium Australia announced its final plans for entering the global commercial battery market, Tesla received approval to use an LFP battery in its China-made Model 3. It will be the first time Tesla has built a vehicle using LFP batteries instead of the typical LCM type. At US$32,000 per tonne, cobalt is one of the most expensive EV battery inputs. A no cobalt LFP battery could significantly reduce the vehicle’s sale price.
Lithium Australia has established itself as a vertically integrated player in the lithium space – as a mineral explorer, patenting innovative processing technologies, utilising low-cost waste materials and recycling used batteries.
In September, the company said it had entered into agreements with Okapi Resources, Metal Hawk, Australian Vanadium and Mercator Metals to gain exposure to upstream gold and base metals exploration and production while securing 100 per cent of the lithium potential.
It appears there is a long road to travel yet before EV battery makers settle on a final definitive product to meet the expected surge in global EV production in the 21st century. Lithium Australia has positioned itself at the forefront of EV battery innovation and showing the world how good Australia can be at advanced manufacturing.
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