IM Lithium News In Brief 18 - 25 February 2015

By Josie Shillito
Published: Wednesday, 25 February 2015

BASF forms Li-ion joint venture with Toda Kyogo Corp.; Samsung acquires Canada-based battery supplier; Asahi Kasei Corp. purchases Polypore International's energy storage business.

Global chemicals group BASF SE has formally established a lithium-ion (Li-ion) cathode materials joint venture (JV) with Japan’s Toda Kyogo Corp., which will operate under the name BASF Toda Battery Materials LLC.

The JV was established with 66% equity from BASF Japan Ltd and 34% from Toda Kyogo, and will research and develop a broad range of cathode materials, including nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA), lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) in Japan.

"BASF brings global strength in cathode active materials to this new venture, together with a 150-year history of innovation," Kenneth Lane, president of BASF’s catalysts division, said.

Shigeru Takaragi, Today Kyogo’s president, added that the new JV would be able to "respond in a flexible and timely manner to the globally expanding cathode market for Li-ion batteries."

Samsung SDI has acquired the battery pack division of Magna International, an automotive supplier based in Ontario, Canada. The electronics giant has been working on Li-ion battery cell technology with BMW since 2009, producing the BMW i8 and i3.

Samsung says it expects this acquisition to "enhance Samsung SDI’s capabilities in batteries for electric vehicles by combining the company’s established leadership in battery cells and modules with Magna’s expertise in battery packs."

Back in December, Samsung’s investment arm, Samsung Ventures, led a $17m investment round in Seeo aimed at producing superior EV batteries.

Japan’s Asahi Kasei Corp. has agreed to acquire Polypore International’s energy storage business for $2.2bn.

Both companies produce Li-ion battery separators used in electronic gadgets and automobiles, but Asahi Kasei President Toshio Asano believes that the type produced by US-based Polypore - known as dry process separators - will become the auto sector's preferred option because of its typically lower costs.

Asahi Kasei will acquire all outstanding shares of Polypore for $60.50/share, a 14% premium to their $52.95/share close on Friday and representing a total value of around $3.2bn.

As an integrated step in this transaction, immediately prior to Asahi Kasei’s acquisition of Polypore, the 3M Co. will acquire the assets of Polypore’s Separations Media segment for approximately $1bn and Asahi Kasei will receive the cash proceeds from the asset sale.

Polypore's separation media business, which makes microporous membranes and filtration modules will be merged with 3M's purification business.

In exploration news, TSX-listed Western Lithium has produced 99.8% pure lithium carbonate in its first trial run while commissioning its demonstration plant in Germany.

Initial results released by the company indicate that lithium extraction and brine concentration are in line with the design parameters established in the company’s NI 43-101 report filed on 9 May 2014. 

Permitting and engineering work is planned to accelerate in 2015 based on current discussions with several strategic partners, the company said.

In addition, lithium hydroxide studies have been advanced to finalise the design of Western Lithium’s lithium hydroxide circuit for production. The company expects to test its lithium hydroxide circuit in pilot tests in 2015.

Western Lithium processed 78 tonnes of material, using oxidised ores from its Nevada, US-based property, through a calcination plant in Weimar, Germany, at a rate of 10.9 tpd.

The concentrate was then further treated at its leaching and crystallisation facility in Sondershausen, Germany, at a rate of 4.5 tpd. At peak production, the facility should produce 20 tpa high-purity lithium carbonate (LCE) under continuous operation. 

The company expects to produce several tonnes lithium products in 2015 during several campaigns to verify equipment selection and to provide production run samples for potential offtake sales.

Lithium extraction recovery was measured at 85-90% with tailings containing 200-300 parts per million (ppm) lithium. The operating plant will continue to be optimised prior to the run of the next production campaign, which will include the production of potassium sulphate and sodium sulphate.  

The company plans to granulate, calcine and process approximately 227.8 tonnes of additional lithium feed (a mix of lithium clay, anhydrite and dolomite). 

Also listed in Toronto, Nemaska Lithium Inc. has announced that the Quebec Review Committee in Canada will hold its public hearings on Nemaska's Whabouchi project in Quebec from 30 March to 1 April 2015.

The hearings will give residents of the area near Whabouchi an opportunity to voice their views on the project's impact to the local environment. The consultation is the final step before a recommendation is made to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and The Fight Against Climate Change to issue the general certificate of authorisation required to build and operate the Whabouchi mine.

The company has also recently received a Canadian dollar (C$) ($10.36m*) technology commercialisation grant for its phase one lithium hydroxide plant from the state-funded institute Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).

Researchers from Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and Quebec’s IREQ (Hydro-Quebec’s research institute) have synthesised silicate-based nanoboxes that could more than double the energy capacity of Li-ion batteries as compared to conventional phosphate-based cathodes, according to Nanowerk News. This breakthrough could hold the key to longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and mobile devices.

The five-year research collaboration between IBN and Hydro-Quebec was established in 2011. The researchers plan to enhance further their new cathode materials to create high-capacity Li-ion batteries for commercialisation.

The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, has found a new electrolyte that preserves the lifespan of lithium batteries, according to a report in the Nature Communications journal. The electrolyte eliminates hazardous dendrites while keeping the batteries at 98.4% of initial energy even after 1,000 charges.

The PNNL reports that a majority of batteries today with lithium anodes use a current density of 1 milliamps per square centimetre or less and fail after fewer than 300 cycles.

Researchers of the study – led by physicist Ji-Guang, built on the success of other research utilising electrolytes with high salt concentrations by adding a lithium bis(fluorosulfonyl) imide salt to dimethoxyethane, a solvent.

The research team built a circular test cell, which used the new electrolyte and a lithium anode, and found that the anode developed a thin layer of lithium nodules instead of growing dendrites that can short circuit or limit the ability of the battery.

"Our new electrolyte helps lithium batteries be more than 99% efficient and enables them to carry more than ten times more electric current per area than previous technologies," Zhang said

"This new discovery could kick-start the development of powerful and practical next-generation rechargeable batteries such as lithium-sulfur, lithium-air and lithium-metal batteries," he added.

German car maker Audi this week launched its EV the Audi Prologue Avant. At present, the vehicle is a concept, and not yet in production. It will run a 3 litre TDI diesel engine and an electric motor supported by a 14.1 kWh Li-ion battery. Total output is projected at 455 horsepower and 750 Newton metres (Nm) of torque, corresponding to an average fuel consumption of 1.6 litres/100km, or around 150 miles/gallon.

The Indian government is planning a subsidy of Indian rupee INR 32,00 ($513) on every lithium battery kit to promote greater usage of electric bikes and cut down vehicular pollution, according to a report in the Indian Express.

Indian business Hero Electric is in talks with the Delhi government and the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. (DMRC) to station 20 e-bikes at every metro station. Coimbatore-based Ampere Vehicles has tied up with Domino’s Pizza in Delhi to provide 50 lithium battery fitted e-bikes for delivery to map consumer interest.

The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan provided for a subsidy of INR 22,000 ($355) for a lithium battery pack, but this was withdrawn in 2012, leading to a steep fall in the sales of electric two-wheelers.

*Conversions made February 2015