When playing word association, the most obvious response to ‘battery’ is ‘lithium’. But should you be playing with Altech Chemicals
(ASX: ATC) Managing Director Iggy Tan, the response would be, without hesitation, ‘salt!’
Tan is the first to acknowledge the benefits of lithium batteries, yet he is also very quick to point out their shortcomings.
‘Lithium batteries, as we have seen in news reports, can catch fire and explode,’ Tan says.
‘They have a limited life span of around eight years and operate within a very narrow temperature range, around 15–35 degrees Celsius, so they don’t operate well in the cold.’
Identifying a gap in the battery technology market, Altech Chemicals executed a joint venture with leading German battery institute Fraunhofer IKTS to commercialise the company’s revolutionary CERENERGY® Sodium Alumina Solid State (SAS) battery.
Altech Chemicals considers the salt and nickel metal technology behind the CERENERGY SAS batteries to be a game-changing grid storage alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
The company’s reasoning is prompted by CERENERGY SAS batteries being fireproof and explosion-proof, with a life span of more than 15 years, and an ability to operate in extreme cold and desert climates.
‘Our batteries do not use any lithium, instead the main ingredient is salt and nickel metal powder,’ Tan explains. ‘So, no lithium, no graphite, no cobalt and no copper.’
Fraunhofer IKTS has spent the past eight years developing the SAS technology that has revolutionised previous technologies, allowing higher energy capacity and lower production costs.
SAS-type batteries, in terms of capacity, have already been successfully tested in stationary battery modules, and are now in the final phase of product testing – ready to commercialise.
Fraunhofer IKTS has spent around €35 million on research and development, and operates a €25-million pilot plant in Hermsdorf, Germany.
The final CERENERGY battery modules, at 10 kilowatt hours each, are specially designed for the grid storage market and have been undergoing extensive performance testing in Germany.
Aside from the issues listed above, the new technology sidesteps problems that have been identified with the metals that make up a lithium-ion battery.
The lithium price has been on the rise, putting pressure on production costs and growing concerns that not enough mines and production capacity is being developed to meet the forecasted electric vehicle demand, as well as the stationary energy storage market.
Cobalt comes with the highest material supply chain risk, as about 70 per cent of global cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – exposing the lithium-ion battery industry to supply chain issues.
China produces 90 per cent of the world’s graphite anode material, which represents a concerning geopolitical risk to the industry.
Forecasters suggest there are not enough copper mines being built or expanded to provide all the copper needed, with electric vehicles using 2.5 times more than standard cars.