Sparc Technologies, QUT partner to develop a hard carbon anode material from bio-waste for Na-ion batteries
Australia-based Sparc Technologies has entered into a strategic partnership agreement with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). The Strategic Partnership Agreement is an umbrella agreement that will support a long-term partnership and commitment between the parties, affording Sparc the first right of refusal to commercialize technologies developed from projects Sparc undertakes with QUT. It also provides a framework for long-term cooperation whereby Sparc and QUT agree to work together to identify and undertake new projects.
The partnership will begin with a project in the battery anode space with the development of a novel process for the production of hard carbon from bio-waste.
Using readily available, sustainable bio-waste material will provide Sparc with a strong environmental value proposition when compared with conventional sources of hard carbon. We will be targeting the production of materials for the high growth market of sodium-ion batteries which is displaying significant promise as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries. In addition to enhanced safety for industrial scale energy storage, of great significance is the fact that the materials used in sodium-ion batteries are accessible and not challenged in supply as is the case with lithium-ion batteries.
The Sustainable Hard Carbon Anode project compliments existing knowledge and skills Sparc has developed through its graphene expertise and the extension of this into renewable energy technologies is a natural fit with Sparc’s photocatalytic green hydrogen project.—, Mike Bartels, Sparc Managing Director
The hard carbon materials will be characterized and tested in a sodium-ion cell format at QUT’s facilities for battery development and testing, including the National Battery Testing Center and Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF). Sparc has also engaged an experienced battery technology consultant to advise on the project and to assist with commercialization.
Existing hard carbon materials are typically sourced from carbonaceous precursors such as pitch (a by-product of the oil & gas industry) which undergo lengthy heating at high temperatures. This is a very energy consuming process, which combined with a high emission feedstock, has significant environmental impacts. Furthermore, with China being the world’s dominant supplier of hard carbon materials, this technology aims to provide an alternative western supply source thereby reducing sovereign risk for cell manufacturers.
The themes of sustainability and localizing supply chains have been gaining in importance across industries and are of particular importance in batteries where China currently dominates the production of key raw materials and cells, Sparc said.
Northvolt’s recent partnership with Stora Enso to develop sustainable batteries using wood based products from Nordic forests, in an effort to keep the supply chain local is an example of this. (Earlier post.)
In performing due diligence on this project Sparc has reviewed a number of technologies in the battery space. Sparc believes that Sodium-ion batteries have strong market potential, particularly in industrial and grid scale storage, and that this project is a good fit for Sparc’s existing expertise. Broadly, sodium-ion batteries offer lower cost and greater availability of raw materials; safety and ease of transport; and similar manufacturing techniques to Lithium ion and therefore can use the same production facilities.
Wood Mackenzie expects sodium-ion batteries to take some of LFP’s share in passenger EVs and energy storage, reaching 20GWh by 2030 in its base-case scenario.
CATL launched its first-generation sodium-ion battery in 2021. Other large players involved in developing sodium-ion batteries and their components include Reliance Industries, Umicore, EDF and Solvay, providing strong validation of the significant potential in the technology.
A key attraction of sodium-ion battery technology for Sparc is the ability to leverage its knowledge of graphene materials and production processes.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement is binding, effective immediately and is not subject to any material conditions precedent. The initial term of the agreement is three years and the main objective is to develop functional materials using graphene and carbon material and related manufacturing process technologies, for a range of applications including the coatings, composites, cementacious and energy industries. There are no cash payment obligations between the parties.