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This Next-Gen Battery Element Can Store More Lithium than Graphite

Stockhouse Editorial
1 Comment| September 13, 2021

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(Image via NEO Battery Materials Ltd.)


There have been major advancements made in recent years to power, for longer periods of time, the growing number of portable electronics in our lives, as well as hybrid and full electric vehicles (EVs)….

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However, there is a limit to the capacity of traditional graphite anode materials. Another chemical element, silicon (Si), has emerged as one of the most promising alternatives to meet this demand. As an anode material, it boasts a much higher theoretical specific capacity, with a low discharge potential and natural abundance. However, Si does see a volume expansion problem during repeated lithium insertion and extraction, which can deteriorate its cycle performance tremendously by inducing fractures, and the damage to the conductive additive or current collector can result in the loss of electronic paths and instability.

These critical problems have hindered the commercial application of Si anodes in this field and several companies are working solve this issue by adopting various forms of nanostructured silicon, silicon oxide, carbide, or nitride composites, and other silicon alternatives.

This is where Vancouver-based NEO Battery Materials Ltd. (TSX-V: NBM, OTC: NBMFFForum) fits in.

The resource Company focused on battery materials in North America, as well as producing Si anode materials, which, when added to the anode in the production of Lithium-Ion batteries (LiBs), provides significant improvements in capacity and efficiency over Li-Ion batteries using graphite as their anode materials. The Company intends to become an integrated Si anode materials supplier who will transform the electric vehicle industry.


(Image via NEO Battery Materials Ltd.)


The Company made the headline in late March 2021 when it achieved breakthrough results in attaining a highly stable long-term cycling ability using 100% Si anodes. The pure Si anode does not contain graphite anode materials and has been successful in demonstrating these results at automotive rates of charge and discharge for over 1000 cycles with less than 25% capacity degradation.

NBM has made further technological developments that include a 5-minute ultra-fast charging capability and successful integration into graphite anodes for improved longevity, stability, and capacity retention. The Company has indicated these are highly positive signals for the commercialization of its silicon anodes as NEO may increase its silicon content without serious performance degradation.

Furthermore, NBM has initiated its step to construct a semi-commercial scale facility that will be capable of producing 120 tons per year and has signed over 13 NDAs with solid-state electrolyte developers, battery cell, materials, and metals developers and manufacturers over the last 5 months. In the most recent weeks, the Company has also received several sample requests of its proprietary silicon anode prototypes by established battery materials producers and automotive manufacturers.

Stockhouse Editorial caught up with NEO Battery Material’s Chief Executive Officer Spencer Sung Bum Huh to find out more ….

Thank you for joining us. For investors who are new to your story, can you explain the benefits of silicon in lithium-ion batteries?

Currently, most lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) on the market use a graphite anode. There are many limitations to using this material due to its energy density and charging speed, which are large barriers to the development of lithium-ion batteries for longer range electric vehicles. Replacing the graphite anode with silicon yields some significant performance improvements. Silicon anodes can store around 10 times more lithium at the same mass compared to graphite, which increases the battery life. Providing empirical numbers, silicon has a theoretical specific capacity greater than 3580 mAh per gram compared to graphite with 372 mAh per gram. Finally, silicon anodes are able to accept electrons at a significantly faster rate, leading to improved charging times. To summarize, LiBs with Si anodes are lighter, last longer, and recharge faster than traditional graphite-based LiBs.


Can you give us a rundown on your nanocoating technology, how it's made and how it works?

Using pure or high-content silicon anodes currently present certain challenges. Silicon anodes are more prone to volumetric expansion when being charged, which causes increased damage to the battery and safety concerns. For traditional graphite anodes, 6 carbon atoms can accept 1 lithium ion, but as for silicon, up to 4.4 lithium ions can be stored per silicon atom. Hence, the volume expansion exists as a natural phenomenon, and batteries made of 100% conventional silicon typically fails to meet industry standards.

NEO addresses this issue through our nanocoating technology that coats a robust material onto silicon to work around the volume expansion problem while maintaining performance. NEO possesses more nanocoating materials for silicon particles that can functionalize and improve the anode’s performance. Our silicon can then be combined with graphite to form a stable silicon-carbon mixture anode. Instead of a fully pure silicon anode, this hybrid high-content silicon anode increases the specific capacity and energy density while easing the challenges faced. We are currently working to integrate our technology on both silicon nanoparticles and microparticles.


What are some key advantages of your anode technology?

Our proprietary silicon anode technology offers several distinct advantages over current pure graphite anodes. Firstly, in our durability test, we have achieved roughly a capacity of 2000 mAh per gram while experiencing only <25% capacity loss after 1000 cycles, and we were successful to integrate our silicon on 10% loading with a commercial graphite anode for improved capacity retention and stability. This highlights a positive signal for the commercialization of our silicon anodes as we will increase the silicon loading for the prototype. As a short-term project, we will be targeting a loading of over 20% and eventually 100% as the final-end goal.

Secondly, our technology allows the anode to be highly flexible which adds to structural durability of the silicon and allows for versatility in a variety of form factors. Thirdly, our anode technology allows greater lithium-ion movement which leads to ultra-fast charging times. We were able to achieve 5-minute (12 C-rate) charging on a coin cell test without problems to performance and safety. NEO enables better wettability of the electrolyte to surface of the silicon, increasing the contact surface area to increase the lithium-ion current into the anode.

The performance of silicon is integral and can always be improved, but cost-effective, scalable manufacturing of silicon anodes is the bottleneck that is slowing widespread adoption. This is why our silicon nanocoating technology offers a significant process advantage as we retain a single-step, one-pot process that does not require high temperature, high pressure, or a vacuum. Using low-cost coating materials and a simple coating process allow our process to be more efficient and less costly than those of other companies pursuing silicon anodes manufactured through complex engineering such as nanowires or other expensive nanostructures.

Along with the lean single-step, one-pot process, NEO is refining its nanocoating technology on both Si nanoparticles and microparticles. Dr. J. H. Park, Director and Chief Scientific Advisor of NEO, has developed the proprietary technology for 7 years on Si nanoparticles as nanosized particles have presented the effectiveness to partially solve the volume expansion and particle cracking problem. However, producing Si particles of nano-size is highly expensive due to the additional time, energy, and technology required to refine the particles into a smaller size.

This is the main reason why NEO is headed in a two-way development direction to utilize silicon microparticles due to the larger-sized silicon being 8 to 10 times less expensive than nanoparticles on average. The cracking issue persists with the microparticles, but our proprietary process has been able to present performance advantages with micron-sized silicon. The flexibility of application for NEO’s technology stands as one of the most substantial value propositions as both performance and price competitiveness can be realized.


Let’s talk about you and your team, there is a lot of experience backing NEO Battery Materials, what brought you to the Company?

I have been working in the capital markets for over 28 years, advising several mining, biotechnology, and high-tech companies in business strategy, operations, acquisitions, and financing. I have always been passionate about new technologies and innovations that change the way we live. Given the growing emphasis on clean technology and ESG initiatives, the electric vehicle is an innovation that can lead us to a more sustainable life. However, the development in EVs is experiencing a blockade due to high production costs in which the battery accounts for 30%. Hence, battery materials have been a continual interest, and silicon anode materials currently stand as a blue ocean in the highly competitive battery industry.

Dr. Jong Hyeok Park is currently the Director and Chief Scientific Advisor, and he is the one in charge of developing and refining the silicon anode materials. He was a former Senior Researcher at LG Chem, which is the currently the second largest battery manufacturer in the world, and retains over 92 patents related to battery technology and other innovations. Dr. Park had co-developed the safety-reinforced separator (SRS) during his time at LG Chem, and the technology is being currently utilized in EVs. Most recently, he was awarded to prestigious S-OIL 2020 Next-Generation Scientist Award in South Korea, being the sole recipient for the energy sector. Dr. Park, additionally, was selected as one of the Top 100 Leading Scientists for Renewable Energy Technology Innovation for 2025 by the Korean Academy of Science and Technology.


Whom else on the leadership team should we highlight?

I would also like to highlight our Chief Operating Officer and SVP, Mr. Sung Rock Hwang. Mr. Hwang has over 30 years of experience working for Samsung SDI, serving as the executive director and chief of purchasing, and advisor until 2018. His deep understanding of the battery business development and trade capabilities, specialized knowledge in raw materials, such as cobalt, nickel, and aluminum has been beneficial to NEO. Mr. Hwang had focused his career into battery supply chain management and procurement planning, and he has an active role in evaluating the progress of the silicon anode prototype and semi-commercial facility.

In our Scientific Advisory Board, Mr. Jae Hong Hur is currently the chairman and former CEO of L&F Co., Ltd., which is a global top-tier company in the cathode material business. The company is publicly traded in South Korea with a market capitalization of approximately $4 billion CAD. He has over 15 years of lithium-ion battery development and commercialization and is highly respected in the field.

Mr. Suk Joong Hwang is another member in our Scientific Advisory Board. At NEO, he is currently in charge as a project manager for the semi-commercial facility and scaling the process for mass production. Mr. Hwang has over 20 years of experiencing in process engineering in the chemical and polymer industry and has achieved several successes in scaling up processes from the lab to commercial scale through pilot and semi-commercial plants.


NEO Battery Materials also just signed an exclusive world-wide agreement with the University-Industry Foundation of Yonsei University around silicon nano coating technology for battery anode materials, can you tell us more about the work being done here?

As stated from past news releases, we previously entered into a licensing agreement with YUIF which granted us access to patents owned by the university regarding the silicon nanocoating technology. Building upon this, we have signed a collaborative development agreement and this second licensing agreement due to positive and productive progress between the two parties.

This licensing agreement is with regards to carbon nanotubes (CNTs) as a nanocoating material for NEO’s silicon anode materials. Our modified CNT material enables substantial improvements in long-term stability of the anode and output characteristics compared to conventional CNT/silicon anodes. This material adds to the current pipeline and will enable for a wider customization of silicon anode products manufactured through our single-step, one-pot process.


The Company has recently announced the upgrade from the pilot plant to a semi-commercial facility, what are some details on developments that you can tell us about?

As stated in the news release, based on internal sample testing results and the optimization of NEO’s manufacturing process, management, advisors, and the engineering team have concluded that we may increase the output by 12-fold to 120 tons per year. We have hence renamed the facility to a semi-commercial plant from the pilot. Considering a 10% silicon loading in the anode, this capacity can supply to 40,000 electric vehicles, and we are aiming to increase the silicon loading through continuous R&D.

Between all personnel, there exists great confidence of mass producing NEO’s proprietary silicon anode for the electric vehicle industry. The facility will be in South Korea and will possess the identical technical precision and process as a mass-production facility. The design hence will accommodate for ready conversion into a commercial facility without substantial modifications. A third-party engineering firm is currently performing a site due diligence report, and the Company will receive a comprehensive report of the facility before the final decision.


What makes this product so relevant to today’s market?

Electric vehicles (EV) have taken off in the past five years and are expected to continue to gain market share since many automakers are making plans to switch to all-electric lineups. High cost is a huge factor that limits growth in the EV industry. Batteries are the most expensive EV component in terms of dollar per kilowatt-hour, and anode materials are the main bottleneck, so effort is being put into increasing range, reducing degradation, and improving charging times at a lower cost. Our new silicon nanocoating technology achieves all these goals which would make EVs more affordable and practical through decreasing the cost and improving the performance of LiBs.


A lot of analysts have big expectations for the future of the EV industry … where do you see it growing in the immediate future?

Electric vehicles provide many benefits over gas-powered vehicle such as environmental impacts, lower fuel costs, and increased performance. As the bottlenecks of charging network and battery limitations are being addressed, EVs will become more viable for mass adoption.

Right now, you could see from the Canadian government investing millions in Next-Generation EV Charging Networks, Xi Jinping’s pledged to cut China’s carbon dioxide emissions to nearly zero by 2060, and the U.S. Administration’s infrastructure plan allocates a significant budget for developing America’s EV industry. Additionally, the Government of Canada has set ambitious federal targets of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) reaching all new light-duty cars and trucks to be zero-emission by 2035 and invested over $600 million to help make ZEVs more affordable and infrastructure more accessible. All these show that governments are incentivizing EV purchases and setting dates to phase out gasoline vehicles, and automakers are responding by pursuing all-electric lineups in the coming decades, so there is definitely strong demand and growth potential for LiBs.


What kind of news can investors expect on the subject in the near future?

We are currently emphasizing our corporate developments, and we are working towards securing reliable partners in various stages of the battery value chain. In our most recent news release, the company has sent off its first silicon anode prototype to its NDA partner and has received several interests for our silicon anode prototypes by established, multi-billion industry players. We will commit to further due diligence and discussions regarding our technology and potential synergies. To accelerate prototype production and shortening the time for feedback, we have ordered additional equipment for demand accommodation. As mentioned, patent announcement will be made as patents are both filed or approved, and NEO will be releasing updates on the semi-commercial plant on a continual basis.


Thank you for speaking with us today, anything final to add for investors?

At NEO Battery Materials, we are prioritizing to maximize our shareholders’ value through creating productive and strong developments regarding our silicon anode materials. With our robust management team from LG, Samsung, and L&F, we are unequivocally confident that our silicon anode materials will be brought up to scale to the commercial level, supplying to the electric vehicle supply chain. Please keep attention for our stream of news release for further updates.

For more information, please visit the Company's website at: neobatterymaterials.com.


FULL DISCLOSURE: This is a paid article produced by Stockhouse Publishing.



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