Can you tell us a little bit about Nano One?
Nano One (TSX: NANO) is a technology company. We’re developing processing technology to improve the way cathode materials are made for lithium-ion batteries. The core technology is what we call our One-Pot process. It enables us to make cathode materials directly, for instance, from metal powders, as opposed to intermediate chemicals like sulphates.
This eliminates sodium sulphate from the cathode making process, which is a large wasteful byproduct that must be otherwise landfilled or dumped into waterways. There’s a significant environmental benefit to our One-Pot process as it also reduces steps and complexity in the supply chain, which brings in a lot of interest from the miners and from the OEMs, at either end of the supply chain, who see that these changes can create greater value for their products.
This One-Pot process is a manufacturing platform that enables us to make all forms of cathode materials. Each brings different benefits and serves different purposes. We use raw material sources of nickel, manganese, cobalt, iron, and/or phosphorus and mix them in our One-Pot reactor, along with any coating and additive materials, where they are chemically converted into an intermediate chemical before being dried and fired in a furnace, to form the final cathode material. There are fewer steps than the incumbent methods, it recuses cost, carbon footprint and water usage, and it eliminates a restrictively large amount of environmental waste.
You entered into a strategic agreement and collaboration agreement with Rio Tinto. What was so appealing about this agreement to the Nano One team?
Rio Tinto (LSE: RIO), being one of the largest mining and metals companies in the world, brings tremendous industrial knowhow to the partnership and are working in extremely large volumes, so they know how to scale and how to capitalize projects.
The genesis of this agreement is working with them on iron metal powders as direct input for lithium iron phosphate cathode materials, using process innovation and scale-up know-how to create one of the cleanest and most efficient battery material supply chains on the planet. They also bring lithium to the table through their projects in North and South America, and Eastern Europe.
This will give us a tremendous advantage, particularly in North America where interest in LFP is only in its infancy. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive change and differentiation from Asian supply chains, through environmental improvements, security of supply, and cost reductions.
Do you think we’re going to see more of this type of collaboration happening between the large miners or the OEMs for this one end goal for battery materials?
Yes, we’re working to bring more partners like Rio Tinto to the table, who have the mining and the scale-up knowhow. OEMs must get involved too, to help drive and fund the needed changes. It is this kind of thinking that’s needed to make tens of millions of tonnes of battery materials for the net-zero transition.
What types of batteries or battery material projects do you see getting funded these days? Where is the interest growing?
Funding is going to projects that can put batteries between wheels today, that can capture market share as adoption increases outside of Asia, and to next-generation batteries that favour higher voltages, faster charging, longer calendar life and, of course, energy density. Solid state lithium-ion batteries will remain an area of investment interest, but it’s a long haul, a crowded space and tonnes of technological risk, that will be challenged as conventional lithium-ion batteries get better and better.
We will also see more and more funding being directed at the supply chain and at process development. With our platform for making different cathode materials, we can address growth in iron, nickel and manganese rich cathode materials, the raw materials needed to make them and innovations in the processes to make them more economical and environmentally friendly.
The demand for nickel-rich materials, or NMC, is established in and out of China, with a healthy amount of growth projected with the adoption of electric vehicles.
Iron-rich materials, or LFP, are almost exclusive to China and we believe they will grow tremendously, from almost nothing ex-China today, to one third of the market within the next decade.
And lastly, manganese-rich materials, such as LNMO, offer higher voltages, energy densities and much faster charging, and we believe they will become commercially viable in the coming years, ultimately to share the final third of the market by the mid ‘30s. Each chemistry has its strengths and will serve increasingly diverse applications in mobility and renewable energy storage applications.
Nano One has initiatives in all these areas at different stages of development. Our recent move to acquire Johnson-Matthey’s production plant in Quebec and our partnership with Rio Tinto, is squarely aimed at the emerging market opportunities in LFP. We believe we will have a technical and strategic advantage with the only LFP plant in north America and the simplest, lowest cost and most environmental supply chain in the world.
Looking at interesting technological changes, how are these impacting the battery materials industry moving forward in terms of advancements and developments? What you see for the future of the industry?
From battery point of view, some of the bigger changes are happening at the pack level. This is where individual battery cells are assembled into a large battery pack for vehicles or renewable energy storage. We are seeing whole scale redesign of the battery pack and the cells within them and leveraging the properties of the chemistry, enabling auto manufacturers to pack more cells into the same space, for a lighter package and greater energy density. LFP battery packs are particularly suited to these innovations, because of they are more robust, longer lasting, and more thermally stable than other battery chemistries.
These changes will broaden the spectrum of usable cathode materials, offering Nano One growth on many fronts, and will lead to optimizations that leverage the properties of the underlying cathode materials and customization of the cells and the packs to address a wide range of needs.
One of the biggest changes to our industry is the need to localize and securitize supply chains. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now, in North America, South America, Europe, India and other jurisdictions, to differentiate ourselves from established supply chains in Asia, by mining and making metals, materials, and batteries in a more cost-effective and environmentally impactful way.
What are you looking at over the next one to five years?
We will grow our business, partnerships, and licensing opportunities with our multi-cathode production technology. We will demonstrate at automotive relevant scale, and we will continue to add partnerships up and down the value chain. All of this is to drive the adoption of our processing technology and pave the way for millions of tonnes of materials to create a green, sustainable, and competitive battery materials supply chain.
Raw materials will eventually come from recycled batteries and mines that are only at an exploration stage today. Our One-Pot process is uniquely flexible from a raw materials point of view, and we will be developing flowsheets to accommodate emerging sources such as these.
We look forward to bringing these projects and our vision to fruition and thank you for the great questions and interest in Nano One.