Battery Factory with Woman
Photo: stock

The Ontario auto parts maker has formed a new joint venture — called VoltaXplore — with Montreal graphene producer NanoXplore. They’ve committed $8 million to launch a demonstration facility, with plans for a 10GWh battery cell plant to follow

Canada’s third-largest auto parts manufacturer is upping its existing work in EVs, with plans to test new technology that it claims could enhance EV batteries by improving charge time, range and longevity, all while working at a lower temperature. 

With a new demonstration facility announced and another factory pending — depending on the success of the first — the plan for Montreal-based graphene producer NanoXplore and automotive supplier Martinrea International, headquartered in Vaughan, Ont., is to challenge current industry standard lithium-ion batteries with graphene.

“A lot of battery makers are going to get very interested in graphene very quickly… it’s secret sauce”

Pat D’Eramo, CEO, Martinrea
Martinrea president and CEO
Pat D’Eramo, Martinrea President and CEO

“I think a lot of battery makers are going to get very interested in graphene very quickly,”  Martinrea president and CEO Pat D’Eramo said in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “My guess is there already are some that are interested in it, but aren’t saying it because it’s secret sauce.” 

NanoXplore and Martinrea announced their new EV battery manufacturing venture, called VoltaXplore, last month. D’Eramo was announced as VoltaXplore chairman, and NanoXplore founder and CEO Soroush Nazarpour will also be CEO of VoltaXplore.

“One of the keys to an electric vehicle future is significantly improved batteries, and we believe we can be a part of the solution, both at VoltaXplore and as a graphene provider at NanoXplore,” Nazarpour commented in the press release. Electric Autonomy Canada reached out to Nazarpour for comment, but his representatives declined based on scheduling conflicts. 

The venture is building on the two companies’ existing strong ties — Martinrea owns 22 per cent of NanoXplore, the companies are already working together on graphene-enhanced brake linings, and its executive chairman is also chairman at NanoXplore. “We’ve been a big supporter of theirs for many years,” says D’Eramo of NanoXplore. 

VoltaXplore’s first big step will be the construction of an approximately 20,000-square-foot demonstration facility in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux. According D’Eramo,it will have an output capacity of 1,000 battery cells per day and is slated to open next year. 

The purpose of the demonstration facility is to prove out the company’s graphene technology by building and developing battery cells, according to D’Eramo. “We’ve done initial experiments and research on graphene in batteries and smaller batteries, like quarter-sized ones, to get started,” he said. “Based on that we need to go to a normal cell — or ultimately like the cells that are in vehicles — this demonstration facility would allow us to do that within the next year. It’s the next natural step.” 

Made-in-Canada battery

Graphene is a multipurpose, single-atom-thick material found in graphite. It is 200 times stronger than steel and known for its lightness and electric and thermal conductivity. VoltaXplore believes graphene technology can improve EV battery charging time and extend range, as well as reduce overheating, D’Eramo says.

The companies say they will invest $4 million each in VoltaXplore, and are “committed to provide up to an additional $6 million in development funding if, as and when required,” according to their press release.  

One of those “ifs” is the demonstration facility showing “improved battery performance using graphene,” as well as positive customer feedback and building out the business case, according to the same release. 

In that case, VoltaXplore will build on their existing Canadian connections by commissioning a one-million-square-foot 10GWh battery cell manufacturing facility with the potential to employ 2,000 people, according to D’Eramo. 

D’Eramo said the proposed factory would have an output capacity of one billion cells per year, translating into production of between 140,000 to 150,000 EV batteries in the same time period. Unlike the demonstration facility, the 10GWh manufacturing facility has no confirmed location yet and the specifics of the companies’ investments are still being reviewed, but D’Eramo said plans will be solidified by the end of 2022.

“Our target is to build it in Canada,” D’Eramo said, “Canada does not have a battery facility, and we think that we would be well fit as two Canadian companies.”

Finding premises

VoltaXplore has started talks about site selection for the new facility with governments and other Canadian sources. D’Eramo said the two provinces that seem to be most active in discussions so far are Ontario and Quebec.  

NanoXplore currently has a 70,000 square foot manufacturing building in Montreal. D’Eramo says its research estimates that with the capability of producing 4,000 tones of graphene per year, about 40 per cent of the graphene production capacity in the world exists in NanoXplore’s facilities.  

“I think it’s a benefit to Canada, and gets them in the game, because right now, there are no battery facilities in Canada,” he said of the advantages to VoltaXplore having a strong presence in Canada. “And these batteries will be unique, because of the graphene being used in them. There’s a lot of advantages to Canada by putting it there. And I think there’s interest frankly, from what we’re gathering.”