How the commercialisation of a carbon-negative alternative to graphite is set to address raw material scarcity for EV and grid-scale batteries.
Graphite is a critical material for lithium-ion batteries that power the electric vehicles (EVs) of today, typically making up to 50% of a battery’s weight. However, expected global demand currently far outstrips supply, with a forecast deficit of 777,000 tonnes per annum predicted by 2023 according to Reuters. With countries increasingly competing for raw materials, securing supplies of graphite is key to accelerating the production of EVs and renewable energy systems.
Over half of global demand for graphite currently comes from the battery sector, but there is a downfall: graphite production is one of the largest CO2 emitters in the battery raw materials supply chain and represents a significant proportion of the cost of a battery. Adding to the problem, today’s battery supply chains are long and complex, with petroleum-based and mined materials crossing the globe for source, through processing to battery assembly, to reach end consumers.
New Zealand-based battery material innovator CarbonScape is working to address these issues with the development of Biographite – a carbon-negative alternative to graphite – to enable cleaner lithium-ion batteries for EVs and grid-scale energy storage. Bolstered by a new $18 million investment round, the company is now in the process of commercialising the innovative material to deliver a cleaner, competitive and more secure raw material to the global market.
“CarbonScape’s Biographite enables the establishment of localised battery supply chains from the ground up,” says Ivan Williams, the company’s CEO. “If we are to truly move away from fossil carbon and power our economies through mass electrification, we urgently need sustainable alternatives like Biographite to scale quickly. This investment represents a strong statement of support for sustainable sourcing of battery materials for global decarbonisation.”
HOW IS IT PRODUCED?
Biographite has been developed to fulfil demand for a sustainably produced critical raw material for EV battery supply chains, which currently depend on costly and high-emission production processes.
“We discovered how to make our carbon-negative alternative to graphite while working on a solution to another problem: we were using microwave technology to produce green coke, to decarbonise steel production,” explains Williams. “As the grave implications of the impending global shortage of graphite for lithium-ion batteries became clear to us, we pivoted towards producing a sustainable alternative to this critical material instead.”
CarbonScape’s patented process is the result of seven years of development and testing, and uses timber and forestry industry by-products, such as wood chips, to provide a sustainable alternative to synthetic petroleum-based graphite and natural mined graphite. These by-products are then used to produce Biographite through a cleaner, faster process known as thermos-catalytic graphitisation.
“Mother Nature doesn’t make high-performing graphite,” Williams continues. “Like in mining seams for other minerals, its quality is also very inconsistent. Our Biographite represents a new, high-quality form of synthetic graphite that performs at a similar level to the synthetic graphite that is already favoured by cell manufacturers and OEMs, due to its better performance characteristics.”
The company has honed its production process to run at half the temperatures required to make synthetic graphite, and to produce it in hours, not weeks. This means the process is far less energy intensive and is therefore cost-competitive.
Williams adds, “Importantly, our Biographite is produced via a carbon negative process. One which isn’t reliant on fossil fuels, uses renewable feedstocks, employs renewable energy, and is highly energy efficient. As our process allows graphite to be produced anywhere there is adequate feedstock i.e., leftovers from the local forestry industry, enabling the battery industry to slash supply chain transport emissions.”
Meeting the demand for batteries with synthetic graphite would require more than tripling existing production capacity, using fossil fuel feedstocks and high-emission processes. To use mined graphite would require almost 100 new mines, each taking a decade or more to come online and costing hundreds of millions of dollars, with enormous social and environmental costs. By contrast, using less than five per cent of the forestry industry by-product generated annually in Europe and North America, CarbonScape’s cleaner, faster process could produce enough biographite to meet half the total global projected graphite demand for EV and grid-scale batteries by 2030.
With the latest investment in mind, what are the commercialisation plans for Biographite? Williams says: “Thanks to the investment and support of strategic partners such as Stora Enso, one of the world’s largest forestry companies upstream, and leading lithium-ion manufacturer ATL downsteam, we are well-positioned to roll out Biographite production in Europe and the US. Recent regulatory tailwinds show that the time is right for Biographite, with the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act and the US’ Inflation Reduction Act both incentivising onshoring where possible, to bolster supply chain security.”
A key advantage of Biographite is in localising the battery supply chain in order to address the challenge of the graphite supply chain’s dependence on China and secure local supply chains to safeguard countries’ transitions to net zero. This provides the opportunity to decarbonise the lithium-ion battery supply chain to the tune of over 86 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
“We will soon begin realising the potential of Biographite across the entire energy storage supply chain, from the e-mobility sector right through to grid-scale batteries and consumer electronics,” says Williams. “As awareness of the environmental and social drawbacks of mined and synthetic graphite grows, consumer pressure could drive increasing demand for more sustainable materials and thus, mainstream adoption of Biographite – reducing the carbon footprint of each battery by 30%. As such, its impact could be huge across a wide range of applications.”