ASX-listed company Altech Chemicals is hoping to hitch a ride on the booming electric vehicle market in a joint venture to develop the sort of high capacity, long cycle-life silicon-based materials hailed by Tesla as the next big thing in lithium-ion battery technology.
Perth-based Altech is a supplier of 99.9% high purity alumina, which has a wide variety of uses but is increasingly being tapped by lithium-ion battery manufacturers to improve performance, longevity and safety.
The company said on Tuesday that it had signed a collaboration agreement with Spain-based outfit Silico Ferrosolar which has been developing tailor made, high-grade silicon powders, for use on the anode of Li-ion batteries.
As Altech notes, the application of silicon solutions was a hot topic at the recent Battery Day hosted by the Elon Musk co-founded US electric vehicle and battery storage titan, Tesla.
At the much anticipated event, Tesla forecast that silicon would dominate the battery market over the next five to seven years, and announced plans to leverage silicon anode technology as part of its own goal of manufacturing Li-ion batteries internally
The hype over silicon in lithium-ion batteries is due to its having almost 10 times the (theoretical) capacity compared to carbon-based materials, and being one of the most abundant materials on earth.
But of course there are some barriers to its adoption. These are narrowed down to three main problems: potential for poor cyclability performance; instability caused by interaction between silicon surface and electrolyte; and low initial Coulombic Efficiency (CE), or high capacity loss on first battery cycle.
According to Altech, alumina coating of silicon particles has the potential to solve all three of these issues for silicon application in li-ion batteries.
“A combination of the competencies and technologies of both companies offers tremendous potential and a potentially compelling solution for the industry,” the company said in an ASX statement.
Altech says its Spanish collaborator is a leading producer of silicon metal “with a proven ability to create new solutions and applications using state-of-the-art technology to drive innovation,” and is “specifically developing tailor made silicon powders for the anode of Li-ion batteries.”
For its part, Altech develops anode grade high purity alumina and coating technology for the purpose of applying the coating to graphite particles that are typical of those currently used in the anode of the Li-ion battery. Both companies say they believe that the same technology can be applied to Silicon Co’s Li-ion battery silicon powders.
Under the collaboration agreement, both companies will analyse the possibility of using Altech’s high purity alumina and technology to coat specifically designed silicon particles supplied by the silicon company. Altech will supply the coating technology and be the sole funder of the test work.
Altech on Tuesday also launched a $14.5 million capital raise. Major existing shareholders, Germany-based investment firm Deutsche Balaton and Malaysian manufacturing outfit Melewar Industrial Group, have agreed to take up around 52% of the share placement offer, which is scheduled to close in the first week of December.