I’m going to make a bold prediction. The electric vehicles we see on the road today will be virtually obsolete in 5 years. The amount of capital and brain power being applied to battery technology coupled with the desire/need for fewer and lower carbon footprint resources that go into those batteries is going to result in material step changes in vehicle range, speed of charging and hopefully the corresponding cost. Whether the electrical grid can keep up with this rapid transition to EVs remains to be seen but we can save that discussion for another day.
Imagine you want to go on a road trip in your EV, but every 300-400 miles you have to spend a few hours charging. What if the next generation of EVs could add 50+% to that range and fully re-charge in 15-30 minutes. How much would you be willing to pay for the old generation of EV versus the convenience of a new one? For sure there will still be a market for used EVs as some people only need it for their daily commute or trips to the grocery store and otherwise the vehicle sits idle for hours, at which point in time there is little to no inconvenience to charge it. But for me, as someone who likes to fish and hike in the great outdoors of the Rocky Mountains, I can assure you there is no chance I’m buying a current generation EV with its theoretical range that potentially leaves me stranded in the middle of nowhere when the actual range ends up being 25% lower than optimal operating conditions.
One company leading the charge into the next generation of batteries is NEO Battery Materials Ltd. (TSXV: NBM | OTCQB: NBMFF), a Vancouver-based company focused on lithium-ion battery materials for electric vehicle and energy storage applications. NEO has a focus on producing silicon anode materials through its proprietary single-step nanocoating process, which provides improvements in capacity and efficiency over lithium-ion batteries using graphite in their anode materials. The Company intends to become a silicon anode active materials supplier to the electric vehicle industry with their all-star management and technical advisory team cherry picked from LG Chem, Samsung and various renowned universities.
The numbers are impressive both from a capacity/capability perspective and relative cost to their competition. In mid-2021 the Company announced that in a half-cell coin test that its nanocoated silicon anode allowed for a safe full charge within 5 minutes, which demonstrates the potential for scaling and implementation in larger cells such as those used in high power EV batteries. Through a mix of treatments and nanocoating materials, NEO utilizes pure metallurgical-grade silicon (Si) particles, which provide a 40-70% higher initial capacity compared to current competitors that employ SiOx, SiC, or other composite silicon materials. Due to NEO’s advantage of retaining a higher initial capacity, on average, a 5% silicon weight loading of NBMSiDE™ can have the equivalent impact of a 10% loading of a competitor’s materials. Initial coulombic efficiencies (ICE) – the ratio of the discharge capacity after the full charge and the charging capacity of the same cycle and is usually a fraction of less than 1 – for NEO’s 100% micron-size level Si anode have exceeded the 86% level, and cycling performance presents excellent capacity retention after 300 charging/discharging cycles.
Source: NEO Battery Materials March 31, 2022 Press Release
And all this technology is advancing beyond research lab theoretical work. The latest press release from the Company confirms an MOU with the Province of Gyeonggi (basically Seoul, South Korea, and the surrounding area) to establish grounds for investments and cooperation between NEO and the Province to advance the mass production of silicon anode materials for EV batteries. NEO Battery Materials will initially invest, over the next 5 years, 24 billion KRW or approximately C$25 million to support the construction and expansion of the silicon anode commercial plant located on a 107,000 sq. ft. site in Oseong Foreign Investment Complex, Pyeongtaek City, Gyeonggi-do. The Company aims to transform the Province into an essential manufacturing and R&D hub of silicon anode materials. The first phase of the commercial plant will possess an initial annual production capacity of 240 tons of NBMSiDE, and the facility will be built as a 4-story office building with additional space that can accommodate production expansion to 1,800 tons annually of the Company’s anode material.
I have no idea if NEO Battery Materials will be one of the success stories to advance the next generation of battery technology for EVs and energy storage. I do know that they have generated some interesting results and have NDAs signed with over 20 globally established industry players in the battery cell manufacturing, materials manufacturing, and automotive industries. With a market cap of roughly C$30 million, you can decide if this is one of the companies you’d like to hold if you are investing in the future of EVs.