Leading Edge Materials CEO Blair Way discusses the significance of graphite in the development of lithium-ion batteries and Europe’s aggressive push for electrification.
In the interview below, Way provides an update on the company’s Woxna graphite project in Central Sweden. He also discusses the company’s value-adding R&D projects and how they’ll help meet the rising demand for lithium-ion batteries.
Below is a transcript of our interview with Leading Edge Materials CEO Blair Way. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Investing News Network: We’ve seen quite a bit of news about the Woxna graphite project recently. Please tell us about what has been going on with the project.
Leading Edge Materials CEO Blair Way: The Woxna graphite project is our flagship project in Central Sweden. It is fully permitted, constructed and operation ready, and we refurbished the plant in 2014. We’ve also recently extended our operating license for an additional 25 years, taking us to 2041.
We are currently taking our flotation graphite concentrate and value adding such that battery cell manufacturers can confirm it is suitable for their processes. Ultimately, we must be able to produce value-added graphite at our Woxna facility and we are working towards that goal.
INN: This project has been operational since 2014, when it was refurbished. How does it remain in operation-ready status?
BW: The plant is a relatively straightforward beneficiation plant that we run when we need to produce larger samples of material for our various ongoing R&D projects. We have a couple hundred tons of graphite product in our shed and we use this material to test at various labs to help us fine tune our value-adding processes. One of the test programs being completed is focused on understanding the spheronizing process and the equipment needed to spheronize graphite. We’ve also been conducting chemical and thermal purification tests to determine which process is more efficient. We’ve decided to use thermal purification techniques because it provides a consistent and higher-quality product and our location in Sweden gives us access to cost-effective green energy.
We will use the results from our R&D projects to help us define the equipment required to set up a demonstration plant at the Woxna facility where we intend to produce large samples of battery-grade materials for lithium-ion cell manufacturers. We will produce hundreds of kilograms of battery anode materials that manufacturers can incorporate into their process and demonstration plants as part of the next step in the qualification process.
Our materials are currently being tested around Europe and in North America to assist us in defining the value-add process for our demonstration plant. This will enable us to demonstrate that we can produce the right materials at a commercial scale and also demonstrate our ability to customize or tailor products to meet their specifications.
INN: What role does graphite play in the growing battery market?
BW: The lithium-ion battery has been around for 20 to 30 years, but has only seen a massive uptake in usage due to its role in electronics, cell phones, computers and electric vehicles manufactured by the likes of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and BMW (ETR:BMW). Lithium-ion batteries will remain relevant for years to come, which is good news for graphite companies because graphite is a significant and primary material in the lithium-ion battery anode. In most lithium-ion battery cells, the amount of graphite is two to three times greater than the amount of lithium.
INN: How does the EU battery market compare to others in the world? What does the EU Battery Alliance mean for this market?
BW: Many major European cities have stated that they intend to reduce or eliminate the use of vehicles that use internal combustion engines, which has sparked an aggressive push for electric transportation solutions. As a result, the EU Battery Alliance was established to facilitate the collaboration between government and industry leaders to ensure that the EU doesn’t fall behind with regards to electrification and that it doesn’t become fully dependent on the Asian supply of batteries. There are significant initiatives in place to commercialize battery production from the mine to the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries for European-made automobiles, with as many materials as possible sourced from Europe.
INN: What is next for Leading Edge and how does that fit into the company’s long-term plans?
BW: Our long-term plan is to become the go-to supplier of lithium-ion battery materials for manufacturers. Graphite is a key component in lithium-ion batteries and we have the facilities and ability to produce it. Our next step is to incorporate the value-adding equipment so as to produce value-added graphite product that is amenable to the lithium-ion space. As our company continues to grow, we also want to be able to provide alternative materials, such as cobalt or lithium, and thereby provide solutions for our customers’ other supply chain needs.
To see previous interviews with Leading Edge Materials CEO Blair Way, click here.
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