Greener and cheaper: New process revolutionizes battery production

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Switching from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles (EVs) is a great way to reduce carbon emissions.

However, the process of making the lithium-ion batteries that power these EVs can be energy-intensive and polluting.

Researchers at Dalhousie University have now developed a new manufacturing process that is both cheaper and more eco-friendly.

Dr. Mark Obrovac, a professor in Dalhousie University’s Departments of Chemistry and Physics & Atmospheric Science, explains that making lithium-ion cathode material requires a lot of energy and water, and it produces waste.

This has a significant impact on the environment, especially in terms of the CO2 footprint of the battery. “We wanted to find more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and less expensive ways to make these materials,” says Dr. Obrovac.

Most electric vehicle batteries use lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) in their cathodes.

The traditional method involves dissolving these elements in water and then forming crystals when the elements solidify.

This process consumes a lot of water, which then needs to be treated, and a lot of energy, contributing to high costs and a large carbon footprint.

Dr. Obrovac and his team explored whether they could use an all-dry process to achieve the same results while saving energy, water, and money.

They used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to help with their research. Their findings are published in ACS Omega and the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

The researchers experimented with various methods using different oxides and heating techniques to find the best way to make high-quality cathode materials without using water.

They used the Brockhouse beamline at CLS to look inside the furnace during their experiments and see exactly what was happening.

“What we found was crucial information about how we can improve the process to produce higher-grade NMC-type cathode material,” says Dr. Obrovac. The team managed to create cathode materials using an all-dry process that matched the quality of the best ones available on the market today.

Dr. Obrovac has partnered with NOVONIX, a battery company based in Nova Scotia. NOVONIX is using all-dry processes to produce cathode materials at their pilot-scale facility in Dartmouth.

This facility can produce 10 tonnes of cathode material per year using methods that have an estimated 30% lower capital costs, 50% lower operating costs, and use 25% less energy compared to traditional methods. Moreover, these methods require no process water and generate zero waste.

“These are significant improvements,” says Dr. Obrovac. “This new process should result in lower-cost batteries with a much smaller global warming footprint.”

In summary, this new manufacturing process developed by Dalhousie University researchers promises a more sustainable and cost-effective way to produce lithium-ion batteries, which is a big step forward for the electric vehicle industry and the environment.