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Energy Storage

Graphite for batteries attracts investment

Firms expect synthetic graphite projects to lead them into silicon-graphite composite anodes for the electric-car market

by Craig Bettenhausen
August 27, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 33

 

09833-buscon1-hands.jpg
Credit: Elkem
Graphite (right) goes into large batteries for electric vehicles as well as into small coin cells like the ones shown here.

As electric vehicles gain popularity and market share, demand is growing for battery raw materials. Lithium-ion batteries, the most common choice for transportation, usually use graphite anodes because they cope well with the flow of lithium ions during charging and discharging. According to an upcoming report by the consulting firm Roskill, demand for graphite for batteries could grow by 19% per year through 2029.

With that kind of growth in mind, the Indian coal tar company Epsilon Carbon has formed a subsidiary, Epsilon Advanced Materials, that aims to become a major supplier of synthetic graphite—challenging what Roskill says is China’s current dominance. Epsilon is producing 5,000 metric tons (t) per year of the material and plans to increase output to 50,000 t by 2025. The firms expects to spend around $70 million on the expansion.

Epsilon says it will control its own supply chain, from raw coal tar to synthetic graphite. In addition to supplying graphite, Epsilon has set up an R&D arm to work on materials testing and development of silicon-graphite composite anodes.

The Norwegian silicones firm Elkem also has its eye on anodes. The firm has picked Norway’s Herøya Industrial Park as the site for a planned commercial-scale facility making synthetic graphite for lithium-ion battery anodes. The firm is building a 200-metric-ton-per-year pilot plant and already operates a smaller pilot plant that yields 1 t per year.

Though it hopes to become a major supplier of graphite for the current generation of electrodes, Elkem also sees anodes as a market for its core silicon business. Like Epsilon, Elkem is developing silicon-graphite composites. A hybrid material could marry the stability of graphite with the much higher charge density that silicon offers.

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