Nano One seeks to clean-up Li-ion footprint
By Sohail Kamal, West Coast CorrespondentElectronics Power Supply / Management battery Editor Pick li-ion lithium power
While growing global demands for electrified vehicles amplifies the demands for battery technologies, a BC-based firm has emerged with a vision to improve the lithium battery industry’s environmental footprint.
Nano One is a technology company with a patented and scalable industrial process for the production of low-cost, high-performance cathode powders used in lithium-ion batteries. These unique materials are being designed to add value to electric vehicles and grid storage batteries in the global push for a zero-emissions future. Nano One’s goal is to produce with and license its technology to be the leading platform for the global production of a new generation of battery materials.
Based out of Burnaby, BC, the firm has grown from a 20-person organization in February 2020 to 60 employees today. The company recently announced an acquisition of the Johnson Matthey Battery Materials Canada (JM) plant in Quebec that will bring their staff total to 100 by the end of the year.
West Tech Report recently had the opportunity to speak with Dan Blondal, chief executive officer of Nano One,. We asked why his company wants to change how the industry refines battery metals, and how their end goal is to work with customers through licensing. In addition, we want to find out why the acquisition of a plant in Quebec is so important.
90% Global grid market
It is easy to take rechargeable batteries for granted. Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular battery storage option today, controlling more than 90% of the global grid market. And they store energy efficiently for a long period of time.
But, for years, perhaps due to demand, we have turned a blind eye to how we refine the input metals and make them into cathode materials for these batteries. In South America, huge lithium reserves are using up water supplies, causing devastating water-related conflicts among locals. Enter Nano One.
One Pot Process
“It is imperative to find a greener solution if we are to make and recycle tens of millions of tons of battery metals and cathode materials to feed the world of batteries,” says Blondal. In response, the firm has built a platform that will eliminate large volumes of sodium sulfate which is a wasteful by-product of the current process.
“At the core of our technology is our One Pot Process which is a platform for the production of Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP), Nickel, Manganese and Cobalt (NMC), and Lithium Nickel Manganese Oxide (LMNO) cathodes that can be made directly from sulfate-free forms of metals,” explains Blondal. “We eliminate large volumes of sodium sulfate, which is a wasteful by-product that is a fundamental impediment to Terawatt-hour scale-up of batteries, and we reduce water usage, emissions, manufacturing steps, equipment, and operating costs.”
Nano One continues to grow its list of partners.
“We are collaborating up and down the supply chain. Firstly, at the bookends of the supply chain with the world’s largest miners (Rio Tinto) and OEM’s (Volkswagen) to drive change in the supply chain, and midstream with the world’s largest chemical and materials companies (BASF, Johnson Matthey),” says Blondal, noting that the landscape for the battery industry changed for the better over the past few years.
“The volume and commitment to battery production reached a point 2-3 years ago, where energy density is no longer the only driver. Environmental footprint, critical minerals, security of supply, localization, recycling solutions, and diversification are all critical to the adoption of batteries outside of Asia,” explains Blondal. “There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change how we make these materials, define a resilient and secure supply chain and by doing so, set ourselves apart from the methods used in Asia.”
In broad strokes, this is why Nano One’s efforts are ground-breaking. Most of the cathode powders used in today’s Lithium-Ion batteries come from Asia, and Nano One will try to change this. This is in part why they acquired JM’s LFP production facility in Quebec. It will be a testing ground to show and prove to their customers that it can be done, here and elsewhere, in an effective and environmentally-conscious way.
“Quebec has been investing in battery materials and know-how longer than almost any jurisdiction in the world, and they will be a critical center of gravity for the battery supply chain,” explains Blondal. “People are the most important aspect of this, adding centuries of know-how in cathode development, scale-up and production, and with Rio Tinto now as a collaborative partner on raw materials and commercialization, we have added horsepower to move faster and towards volumes that dwarf where the industry is today.”
In order to change the supply chain, Nano One needs the entire industry to come on board with a newer, more sustainable way of refining battery metals and making them into cathode materials. As such, their strategy is to produce and license their technology with others as a way to expand the impact of their efforts. So far, so good, for Nano One.
To learn more, go to www.nanoone.ca.
Sohail Kamal is EP&T’s West Coast Correspondent.