Altech Chemicals Ltd (ASX:ATC) has achieved a breakthrough in lithium-ion technology with its research and development lab in Perth, Western Australia, creating a workable graphite-silicon anode.

After almost 12 months of challenging work, Altech says it has finally “cracked the silicon barrier” and successfully produced and tested a series of lithium-ion battery anode materials that have approximately 30% higher retention capacity compared to conventional anode materials.

Altech successfully combined silicon particles – that had been treated with its innovative proprietary technology – with regular battery-grade graphite to produce a lithium-ion battery electrode containing a composite graphite-silicon anode.

Investors have responded strongly, driving shares up as much as 36.4% to A$0.15 intraday, a new three-year high while the company’s market cap pre-open was approximately A$141.8 million.

Breakthrough for lithium-ion industry

Altech Chemicals managing director Iggy Tan said: “This major achievement is not just a significant breakthrough for Altech, but also for the lithium-ion battery industry generally.

“Especially so, given the 2020 public statement by US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, which said that its aim is to increase the amount of silicon in its batteries to achieve step-change improvements in energy density and battery life.

“A 30% higher energy capacity lithium-ion battery would translate not just to significant cost benefits, but also to potentially increased range for electric vehicles.

“Phase 2 of Altech’s planned research and development program will see the company strive to improve on the 30% energy increase and could include the assembly of a pilot plant.

“In terms of potential commercialisation of its technology, the company’s 75%-owned subsidiary Altech Industries Germany GmbH has already commenced a pre-feasibility study for the construction of a 10,000 tonnes per annum battery materials plant in Saxony, Germany, to service the burgeoning European lithium-ion battery market.”

Altech’s managing director Iggy Tan spoke to Proactive about the breakthrough this morning:

Silicon impediments

The previously unresolved impediments for lithium-ion batteries in laboratory settings included silicone particle swelling, prohibitive first-cycle-capacity loss of up to 50% and rapid battery degradation.

Altech’s materials were subjected to a series of tests over time, including charging and discharging cycling, and appear to have substantially overcome these issues.

According to Altech, the lithium-ion battery industry has declared that the required step change to increase lithium-ion battery energy density and reduced costs is to introduce silicon in battery anodes, as silicon has about 10 times the energy retention capacity compared to graphite.

However, until now silicon was unable to be used in commercial lithium-ion batteries due to two critical drawbacks.

Firstly, silicon particles expand by up to 300% in volume during battery charge, causing particle swelling, fracturing and ultimately battery failure.

The second challenge is that silicon deactivates a high percentage of the lithium ions in a battery. Lithium ions are rendered inactive by the silicon, immediately reducing battery performance and life.

Altech’s potentially game changing technology has demonstrated that silicon particles can be modified to resolve the capacity fading caused by both the swelling and first-cycle-capacity-loss problems.

The company says that after almost 12 months of extensive research, development, and trials at its laboratory in Perth, Western Australia, the Altech Research & Development team headed by Dr Jingyuan Liu has finally cracked the silicon problem.

In a series of tests, the Altech lithium-ion battery anode material averaged energy retention capacity of about 430 mAh/g, compared to a normal lithium-ion battery anode at around 330 mAh/g, being 30% higher. Importantly, the Altech batteries demonstrated good stability and cycling performance.

About Altech Chemicals

Altech Chemicals is a specialty alumina technology and production company that has finalised Stage 1 and Stage 2 construction of its high purity alumina (HPA) plant in Johor, Malaysia, and continues with innovative research and development of its downstream alumina coating technology used to improve the battery life and performance in lithium-ion batteries.

Altech’s alumina coating technology is successful on both silicon and graphite particles, typical of those used in the anode of lithium-ion batteries, particularly within the burgeoning electric vehicle industry.

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