Scientists in Nano One's Burnaby facility testing solutions
Nano One is joining forces with Umicore in a development agreement to create advanced production process technologies in Canada for cathode active materials used in lithium-ion batteries. Photo: Nano One

By harnessing both companies’ IP, Nano One and Umicore are looking to reduce costs, energy consumption and by-products of battery cathode active material

Nano One and Umicore are developing advanced production process technologies for cathode active materials used in lithium-ion batteries in Canada.

It is the first collaboration between the British Columbia-based clean technology company and the Belgian materials technology giant.

“This is a multi-phase joint development agreement. This is about taking our technology to a more advanced level,” says Alex Holmes, chief operating officer of Nano One, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

Nano One uses its M2CAM One-Pot process technology to produce high-performing NMC (nickel, manganese, cobalt) cathode active materials (CAM). The company says its process creates CAM at a lower cost with less environmental impact.

“Umicore’s interest here is to work with us to see this technology and to assess it,” says Holmes.

“To have their know-how and what they can bring to the table as additional value-added steps, we can de-risk the technology for large commercial scale.”

Integrating technologies

Nano One’s One-Pot technology purports to produce a more streamlined, less expensive, energy-intensive and environmentally friendly CAM product.

If the evaluation of Nano One’s technology is successful, Holmes says the “end goal” is to have Nano One’s One-Pot solution integrated into Umicore’s CAM product.

In July last year, Umicore announced that it was building a $1.5-billion CAM and precursor cathode active material (pCAM) plant near Kingston.

“Innovating for a sustainable future is at the core of our business, both through organic developments and by forging research partnerships or jointly developing technologies with third parties,” says Yves Van Rompaey, senior vice president of corporate research and development at Umicore.

“Our development agreement with Nano One allows us to study the feasibility of their technology with the potential and ambition to further decrease the carbon footprint and costs of CAM production. We look forward to fostering a collaborative working relationship with the Nano One team.”

Milestone partnerships

Along with Umicore, Nano One has secured multiple partnerships with industry leaders in the lithium-ion battery market.

In November, the company closed on its deal to acquire Johnson Matthey Battery Materials (JMBM) — a Quebec lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) cathode active material manufacturer for Tier 1 customers. Nano One also took ownership of JMBM’s production facility located in Candiac, Que.

As part of its business model, Nano One is focused on manufacturing and producing LFP cathode active materials, followed by licensing and entering into joint ventures with their technology, says Holmes. The company believes manufacturing LFP has the potential to have “high growth” in the market in the coming years.

Currently, the company is conducting large-scale trials at its Candiac facility. It is the only LFP manufacturing facility in North America, says Holmes.

“We will be looking to effectively repurpose that plant to be the One-Pot technology plant for LFP, specifically. That will be all about taking our technology to a scale where we then look to commercialize; building on the know-how and the experience of that team there,” he says.

Nano One has also received investments and is collaborating with mining company Rio Tinto. The latter will leverage the miner’s expertise in producing high-purity iron powders in Quebec to help advance its technology and build out an efficient and cost-effective supply chain.

Since May 2022, Nano One has partnered with the global chemical giant, BASF, in its third recent joint venture. The companies are looking to create a process for the production of next-generation CAM for commercial use with fewer by-products.

“What I can say about that partnership is that it’s progressing well,” says Holmes.

“What is driving a lot of our partnerships [is] our technology with their formulation. So, what often happens is: we go into R&D first, we work with their formulation with our technology and then we scale it up and move it into our facility in Burnaby. Then, ultimately, we’ll look to continue scaling up with an expansion or facility in Quebec.”

Nano One looking ahead

Looking beyond the company’s technology portfolio and commercialization plans, Holmes adds that, in order to create a closed-loop system, recycling battery materials will eventually need to be prioritized.

“Really understanding the best way to get recycled materials back into the supply chain is going to be super important. I think there are a lot of recycling companies out there today looking at methods. I think it’ll end up becoming an integrated part of a supply chain that feeds back in,” says Holmes.

Nano One will be a featured panelist at Electric Autonomy‘s EV Innovation & Technology Conference 2023 on February 8. They will discuss their refining processes and their place in Canada’s battery supply chain.

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