A significant part of this is acquiring battery materials to power clean vehicles. One of these essential materials is graphite, used for the negative end of a lithium-ion battery known as the anode. If EV battery makers are to meet the increasing demand for EVs, a dependable and plentiful supply of specialised graphite is important.
Despite the growing demand, self-sufficiency is hard to achieve Europe. Different battery types need different minerals, some that are produced from naturally occurring minerals, some from synthetically produced substances.
Graphite has low yield, and the market is high in competitionNatural graphite is used in a variety of batteries due to its good performance, availability, and cost. However, it also comes with several uncertainties about raw-material supply in the right qualities – which make it less ideal as an investment.
– The yield of graphite is low, and the market is highly competed in, says Juuso Konttinen, SVP and Head of Lignode at Stora Enso Biomaterials.
– There is also a relatively low output of anodes per mine – meaning that a significant number of new mines would have to be set up to meet the rapidly growing demand. Furthermore, the manufacturing of the raw material for synthetic graphite, namely needle coke, is limited in Europe.
Moreover, there is a chance that new technologies might make current anodes obsolete.
– Allocating capital into anode manufacturing is seen as risky, which is why investments are not flowing there. The most accurate scenario today is that mining will be set up outside the European continent – in locations like Africa, Turkey, and China – causing that anode manufacturing may reside in Europe.
Lignode® by Stora Enso – a European alternative for graphite
However, there are good news ahead. In the future, car batteries can be from a new European raw material – namely from trees. Lignode® is a material that replaces synthetic graphite with lignin, a by-product in the production of cellulose fibre and one of the largest renewable sources of carbon. What comes to quality, hard carbon from lignin is comparable other non-graphitic carbon anode materials. It also offers faster charge rates compared to graphite.
– Lignode® is a fast, lower-risk solution that helps scaling up anode production in Europe. It taps into existing side streams of abundant material availability and is scalable into significant volumes. Theoretically, it could cater for the whole world’s anode demand, Konttinen explains.
According to him, Lignode® also has a higher yield than graphite, with yield losses converted into bioenergy in the carbonisation process. In addition, it allows for effective use of existing forest industry site set-ups, their infrastructure and existing permitting:
Lignode® utilises the existing capabilities and strengths capital-heavy forest industry and its engineering expertise. When compared to natural graphite, it is significantly less capital intensive – there is no need to set up a mine, and there is also lower capital requirement due to lower temperature processes over synthetics.
Finally, we need to become greener and more responsible. Electrifying the world’s vehicles means a massive increase in mining which is destructive for the environment responsible for much of the toxic waste entering the environment. Moreover, mining is often done under less than satisfactory social conditions.
– Last but not least, Lignode® offers an unmatched sustainability footprint, enabling differentiation against other regions’ automotive manufacturers, Konttinen concludes.