FYI Resources Limited (ASX: FYI; FRA: SDL) and Ecograf Ltd. (ASX: EGR; FRA: FMK) intend to combine their expertise around key building blocks of Li-ion batteries, in particular to optimize the performance of the anode material of batteries. To this end, the spherical graphite particles of the anode are to be doped with microscopically fine layers of high-purity aluminum oxide (HPA). In technical jargon, this procedure is aptly called "HPA-doped carbon coating." Doping refers to the (legal) performance enhancement expected from the coating. According to the two companies, a corresponding memorandum of understanding has been signed.
Due to the unique properties and purity of the material, the number of applications around HPA is growing. One such application involves the anode, particularly in lithium-ion batteries, as the high-purity HPA coating applied to the graphite particles of the anodes increases battery life and performance.
Initial research has shown that HPA-doped carbon coatings on battery anodes increase battery performance. Specifically, the research shows that the HPA coating significantly minimizes first-cycle power loss during battery charge and discharge cycles due to the effect of the protective HPA coating.
Lithium-ion battery anodes are composed of both synthetic and natural graphite, carbon black and silicon. Given the projected demand for anode materials, the battery anode coating market offers significant growth opportunities.
Figure 1: Schematic representation of components of a Li-ion battery. HPA is expected to be used for nanocoating the anode graphite. However, the much larger part is needed for the coating of the battery separator. The separator, together with the anode materials, is the most important raw material in the lithium-ion battery. HPA is mostly used in battery technology in ceramic form as HPA/alumina for coating on the separator membranes inside the battery cell. The HPA-coated separators improve battery chargeability as well as the safety and overall lifetime of high power density batteries.
The memorandum of understanding between the two partners provides for a series of detailed investigations. For example, the efficient use of HPA and/or its ceramic derivatives as coating precursors for battery anode material and separators will first be tested. In addition, a suitable coating process for so-called ALD (atomic layer deposition) coating will be developed specifically for high-purity spherical graphite from EcoGraf. Further tests will then determine the performance of the battery cells optimized with HPA ceramics compared to conventional batteries.
Funding for the technical program will be shared equally. Subject to successful completion of the test programs, the parties will then agree on key commercial principles for further collaboration.
Summary: FYI Resources is known to be in advanced discussions with Alcoa of Australia Limited regarding a potential joint venture (JV). It can be assumed that Alcoa is aware of the possible use of HPA for doping battery anodes and that this development would be pursued in a future JV if necessary. After all, this is an additional market for HPA high-performance ceramics. However, the quantities used in this process are likely to be only a fraction of the quantity needed for the coating of battery separators. Experts Benchmark Minerals expects that on average around 5 kilograms of HPA will be needed per car battery. If you think that through to the end, FYI's initial production target of 10,000 tons of HPA per year would be enough for 2 million cars. However, this calculation is probably only hypothetical, as a good portion of the HPA would probably go into the existing LED market or other traditional applications. There should be no shortage of demand for HPA. These are good prospects for FYI, but also for anode specialist Ecograf. Alcoa, of course, is aware of these growth prospects for HPA. That should make the upcoming JV decision easier.
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