As the demand for electric vehicles continues to rise, the chemical companies Solvay and Orbia are forming a joint venture to build an $850 million facility in the southeastern US that will make polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a polymer used as a binder and a coating for separators in lithium-ion batteries.
Vinyl chloride, hydrofluoric acid, and chlorine are starting precursors in a long synthesis route to PVDF, which improves the energy density and safety of electric vehicle batteries. Solvay didn’t disclose the exact process it will use for the new facility. The project, expected to be the largest PVDF facility in North America, will require two sites. One will draw on Orbia’s expertise to make raw materials, and a second plant—in Augusta, Georgia—will use a Solvay process to produce PVDF. The firms hope the facilities will be fully operational by 2026.
Solvay’s US facility, funded in part by a $178 million grant from the Department of Energy, follows the company’s $340 million investment to expand PVDF production in Tavaux, France. Solvay claims that plant will be the largest PVDF facility in Europe, producing 35,000 metric tons annually when it opens next year. Solvay also recently completed a major PVDF expansion in China.
On a November 3 investor call, Solvay CEO Ilham Kadri said all these projects are part of an effort to set up regional supply chains. “Customers prefer a local source to supply their needs and the authorities provide substantial incentives in order to localize strategic supply chains,” she said.
Other firms are also making investments in PVDF. Earlier this year, Arkema announced 50% volume increases at PVDF facilities in France and China.
However, efforts are also underway to move away from PVDF, in part because the material makes it harder to recycle batteries. Ethan Alter, a contributor to the battery industry newsletter Intercalation Station, says many battery manufacturers have already replaced the PVDF in negatively charged anodes with other binders that are easier to recycle, including ones made from a combination of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR).
Switching to alternative binders in positively charged cathodes is more complicated. CMC and SBR based binders work with lithium iron phosphate cathodes, an inexpensive battery chemistry that is becoming increasingly popular. But Alter says that’s not the case for long-range nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) cathodes, which is still a growing market. “As long as there’s demand for NMC, then there will be demand for PVDF,” he says. “I don’t know of any alternatives.”