If you follow Jack Lifton on InvestorIntel you’ll have a pretty good idea that the dream of replacing all the internal combustion engines on the road today with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is more of a fantasy than a reality based on today’s technology. The demand for raw materials, in particular lithium, just doesn’t add up. Jack does a great job of explaining the math in his Lithium by the numbers article from earlier this month with a follow up to hammer the point home in Lithium: The Haves and the Have Nots from last week. In summary, the first article suggests that even if lithium production doubles by 2025 (which producers say they can do), that will only get the world to roughly 10% of annual car production being BEVs. The latter article states “There is not even the remotest possibility that global lithium (measured as metal) production could grow to this week’s prediction, for example, by the child-like prognosticators at Deloitte, that in 2030 32% of all newly manufactured motor vehicles would be battery electric vehicles (BEVs).”
I think it’s safe to say that most reasonable people around the world agree that reducing emissions is a positive step for humanity. But how do we think as a global community that we can achieve these goals in light of some pretty serious shortfalls in the basic building blocks to making this happen? Obviously, technology has to be the answer. We have to be more efficient with the resources we’ve got if we want to have any chance at not only meeting the political goals of carbon reduction but also avoiding the often unwitnessed reality of destroying the earth by mining every possible resource required to achieve those goals.
The good news is that there is already a company out there working on technology to improve lithium-ion batteries. Nano One Materials Corp. (TSX: NANO) is a technology company with a patented and scalable industrial process for the production of low-cost, high-performance cathode powders used in lithium-ion batteries. These unique materials are being designed to add value to electric vehicles and grid storage batteries in the global push for a zero-emission future. Nano One’s patented manufacturing technology – the “One Pot Process” – streamlines the production process and thereby reduces cost while enabling higher performance cathode materials as compared to the standard manufacturing process. Last year the Company announced the development of a coated, single crystal cathode material for lithium-ion batteries that provides up to 4 times improvement in longevity. Granted this doesn’t necessarily reduce initial demand for lithium but it certainly helps to put less stress on the supply chain going forward.
With that said, last month Nano One announced three new patents issued and allowed in Canada, the US and China. Notably coverage for a novel method for phosphate stabilizing of lithium-ion battery cathodes. An important, low-cost durability improvement to lithium nickel manganese oxide (LNMO) cathode material which delivers energy and power on par with other high-performance cathodes and is more cost-effective because it is cobalt-free, low in nickel and does not require excess lithium. LNMO also has an operating voltage that is 25% higher than commercial high nickel cathodes, enabling fewer cells in applications such as power tools and electric vehicles while providing improved productivity, efficiency, thermal management and power. So no cobalt, less nickel and ultimately less lithium given you don’t need as many power cells.
And then there’s the other unintended consequence of moving towards a lower carbon future, the supply chain. Currently, the cathode supply chain is long and complex. Nano One technology enables cathode materials to be manufactured directly from nickel, manganese, and cobalt metal feedstocks in the form of metal powders, metal carbonates and other salts rather than metal sulfates. Metal powders are one-fifth of the weight of metal sulfates, avoiding the added costs, energy, and environmental impact of converting to sulfate and shipping and handling of waste. Nano One’s technology aligns it with the sustainability objectives of automotive companies, investment communities and governmental infrastructure initiatives. It also offers an opportunity for metals refiners to provide environmentally, and sustainably mined sources of nickel ore to integrate and manufacture cost-reduced value-added cathode powders for direct supply to battery manufacturers.
In summary, Nano One appears to have the right technology at the right time. On top of that, the Company does it all with a lower overall carbon footprint than many, if not all, of its peers. In my opinion, the latter concept still isn’t valued as high as it should be given as most ESG investors appear to be focused on top line carbon impact, and rightfully so given that policymakers haven’t really made it an issue yet. In the meantime, as Jack Lifton educates the world that BEVs in every driveway may be a fallacy in our lifetime utilizing current technology, here’s a company that could perhaps help make it more of a reality.