Greener lithium batteries with plasma tech
Albemarle turns to 6K for disruptive battery materials tech Metal Tech News - January 14, 2022
Last updated 2/1/2022 at 2:57pm
Seeking greener and more efficient technology for the production of advanced lithium materials for rechargeable batteries, Australia-based Albemarle Corp. has entered into a joint development agreement with 6K, a United States-based company that has developed a cutting-edge microwave-controlled plasma technology for producing advanced materials.
Dubbed UniMelt, this patented technology leverages the physics of plasma chemistry to produce high-purity and customized materials in less than two seconds. According to 6K, this is 100,000 times faster than the old-school chemical and solid-state production technologies typically used today. UniMelt is being used to produce battery, lighting, and semiconductor materials, as well as specialty ceramics and advanced coatings.
"Albemarle is developing advanced lithium materials to enable breakthrough levels of lithium-ion battery performance. The UniMelt plasma technology opens new reaction pathways for lithium material innovation. Our collaboration with 6K has significant potential," said Albemarle Lithium Chief Technology Officer Glen Merfeld.
Above and beyond making better lithium materials faster, the adoption of UniMelt technology could drastically shrink the environmental footprint of manufacturing this key ingredient to the batteries powering a low-carbon future.
For instance, Albemarle estimates that converting a conventional 16-gigawatt-hour battery cathode production plant to 6K's UniMelt platform would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, equal to 10 million trees per year; lower water consumption by 90%, or roughly 198.5 million gallons per year; and reduce wastewater production by 100%, or about 220.5 million per year – while requiring a 50% smaller factory footprint.
UniMelt is also well-suited for modular plant design, which means a lithium materials facility with this technology could be quickly built to suit current needs and grow with the electric vehicles and stationary energy storage markets.
"6K technology creates the opportunity for modular manufacturing allowing for a smaller footprint, faster construction, and new models for localization," said Merfeld. "The collaboration sets a strong foundation not only for advanced material development but also for future commercialization."
Albemarle is so impressed with UniMelt that it invested an undisclosed amount of cash into 6K through Volta Energy Technologies, an investment firm that specializes in energy storage-related technologies that enable the adoption of EVs and renewable power generation.
"Albemarle's engagement with 6K is yet another example of Albemarle's commitment to maintain its technology leadership in lithium," said Volta Energy Technologies CEO Jeff Chamberlain.
A technology leadership that could lead to both better batteries through the unparalleled control offered by UniMelt and the sustainability benefits this disruptive plasma system brings to the production of lithium and other battery materials.
"The agreement with Albemarle highlights the commitment of both organizations to drive battery material performance enhancements while introducing more sustainable production methods," said 6K CEO Aaron Bent. "We are thrilled to welcome Albemarle to our investor group and our engineers are eager to work alongside Albemarle's team."