Tellurium may be key to longer-range EVs
BC research team advancing lithium-tellurium battery tech Metal Tech News – September 14, 2022
Last updated 9/20/2022 at 2:48pm
Tellurium, a rare byproduct of mining copper and gold, may be the secret ingredient to longer-lasting lithium batteries that allow electric vehicles to travel more than twice as far on a single charge.
With the support of industrial partner Fenix Advanced Materials, researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan are developing solid-state lithium-tellurium batteries that could deliver such advantages to EVs.
Earlier this year, a UBC Okanagan research team published a study that shows adding a dash of tellurium enhanced the lifespan, charging time, safety, and capacity of existing lithium battery technologies.
With high electrical conductivity and volumetric capacity, tellurium is an ideal material for batteries that would allow EVs to travel further without increasing the size of the battery pack.
Fenix, a BC-based company that specializes in ultra-high purity metals for the clean energy sector, is supplying the UBC research team with high-quality tellurium for its research.
"The high purity of the tellurium along with the mineral's overall attributes makes it ideal as a rechargeable battery material," said Jian Liu, Principal's Research Chair in Energy Storage Technologies at UBC Okanagan.
Using this material, the team developed a quasi-solid-state lithium-tellurium test battery with a flexible gel polymer electrolyte that allows lithium ions to move between the lithium anode and the tellurium cathode.
"All-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries enable higher energy output with an improved safety rating inside a smaller form-factor, thereby expanding its possible applications," said Liu.
Critical battery metal
If advanced to commercial production, a solid-state lithium-tellurium battery could help alleviate some of the range and safety concerns of EVs at a time when governments and automakers are making a rapid transition to e-mobility.
"It's possible that tellurium could have the largest single impact on future battery technology over any other critical mineral," said Tyrone Docherty, CEO of First Tellurium, a company with tellurium exploration projects in the U.S. and Canada. "Its properties are unique, the demand is increasing and America's mandate is to source tellurium at home and become less reliant on China is changing the landscape."
Toward this change in the battery landscape, Fenix is supporting UBC Okanagan's research into lithium-tellurium batteries with a C$1 million cash commitment over five years.
"This partnership with UBCO has played a key role in helping to uncover some exciting innovations in new battery technology and other clean technology solutions," said Don Freschi, founder of Fenix Advanced Materials. "We are thrilled to take this next step."
BC's First Tellurium
Under a strategic partnership, British Columbia-based First Tellurium plans to supply Fenix with tellurium from its Deer Horn tellurium-gold-silver project south of Imperial Metals Corp.'s Huckleberry copper mine in western BC.
Deer Horn hosts 93,000 kilograms of tellurium, 100,000 ounces of gold, and 3.3 million oz of silver in the combined indicated and inferred resource categories, making it the only gold-silver project in North America with an industry-compliant NI 43-101 tellurium resource.
Given the potential uses of tellurium in lithium batteries, coupled with growing demand for this rare semi-metal in cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar panels, tellurium projects such as Deer Horn are becoming increasingly important for the transition to clean energy technologies.
"Considering the Biden administration's recent commitment to provide nearly three billion dollars to boost production of advanced batteries, development of the lithium-tellurium battery is timely," said Docherty. "At the same time, Canada is developing its own Critical Minerals Strategy, backed by a commitment approaching four billion dollars in 2022, to address the need for metals like tellurium for advanced battery technology."
Further details on tellurium and its uses can be read at First Solar powers new tellurium demand in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine published by Metal Tech News on September 12, 2022.