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Advanced Manufacturing

Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost High-performance Graphite

Company Name: Saratoga Energy Research Partners, LLC
Program Office: Advanced Manufacturing
Location: Berkeley, CA
Website: http://www.saratoga-energy.com/
Email: Benjamin Rush, Ph.D.
Chief Technology Officer ben@saratoga-energy.com
Award Amount: $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Oak Ridge National Laboratory

CRITICAL NEED

Graphite is critical for manufacturing clean energy products such as lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors, primary aluminum, silicon, secondary steel, and thermally and electrically conductive composites. Lithium-ion batteries are the fastest growing end use for graphite due to increasing demand for electric vehicles and grid storage. However, reserves of natural graphite are nonexistent in the United States — more than 70 percent of the world's natural graphite is mined in China — and current methods to manufacture synthetic graphite from petroleum coke are expensive.

Saratoga Energy is developing a breakthrough electrolysis process to manufacture low-cost and high-performance graphite from carbon dioxide. Graphite produced by Saratoga Energy's process is well-suited for fast-charging lithium-ion batteries. However, a key remaining challenge is the purification process of the graphite obtained due to its unique morphology and the chemical nature of impurities inherent to the electrochemical process.

Working with experts at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Saratoga Energy will accelerate the commercial path toward a fast, effective, and low-cost purification process that meets the requirements for lithium-ion battery applications.

PROJECT INNOVATION + ADVANTAGES

Saratoga Energy's process synthesizes graphite through the electrolysis of molten alkali metal carbonates. The graphite produced could offer a 70 percent savings compared to commercial incumbents. In the particular case of lithium-ion battery applications, initial results also suggest the capability for up to three times faster charging – a critical need for electric vehicle market penetration.

POTENTIAL IMPACT

Economy:

Reducing the manufacturing time and cost, while delivering nearly 99.95 percent material purity, enables market growth for fabrication of lithium-ion batteries.

Environment:

Utilizing this technology represents a value-added use for carbon dioxide – which would otherwise escape to the atmosphere and trap heat, contributing to climate change - and if powered by renewable electricity, would have a negligible carbon footprint.

Security:

A low-cost process to produce graphite for lithium-ion batteries with improved charging capabilities will increase U.S. manufacturing competitiveness of high performance clean energy products. Cheaper lithium-ion batteries will lead to the broader adoption of electric vehicles, which will in turn help reduce imports of foreign crude oil. Energy storage applications for lithium-ion batteries can also contribute positively to grid reliability and emergency backup electricity storage.