US Department of Energy issues $2.8bln in grants for domestic battery industry

United States President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday, October 19 that the Department of Energy (DoE) will be awarding $2.8 billion in grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

The grants will be awarded to 20 companies across the battery raw material supply chain, from key raw material producers to battery recyclers.

As part of the announcement, the Biden administration also announced the American Battery Material Initiative to increase the US’s competitiveness in the battery raw material supply chain by increasing production of critical minerals and battery raw materials in the hope to ease reliance on China.

The initiative follows several actions taken by the Biden administration in the space while the US looks to ramp up production of electric vehicles (EVs) to meet its environmental goals. These include the inflation reduction act and investment into research for clean energy technologies.

These measures are intended to go some way to tackle some of the concerns within the market around whether supply chains can keep up with forecast demand for products such as EVs.

“Together, these actions will improve America’s energy independence, strengthen national security, and support good-paying jobs across battery supply chains,” the White House said.

Lithium front and center

Lithium supply is a key part of an initiative with funding aiming to support “developing enough battery-grade lithium to supply approximately 2 million EVs annually,” with major lithium miner Albemarle receiving $150 million, and lithium project developer Piedmont Lithium receiving $141.1 million.

Piedmont’s funding will be put toward the development of its lithium project in the US State of Tennessee which the company targets to produce 30,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide annually when at full capacity, with first production planned for 2025.

On top of these investments in mine development, a grant of $57,744,831 was awarded to American Battery Technology Company (ABTC) for the development of a commercial-scale facility producing battery-grade lithium hydroxide from sedimentary-bearing resources in the US State of Nevada.

The grant will be used by the company to build a 5,000-tonne-per-annum lithium hydroxide plant, which the company will look to expand to 30,000 tonnes in the future.

Unconventional lithium sources, such as ABTC’s project, could be a key piece of the lithium supply puzzle while companies across the globe look to unlock previously untapped resources.

The grants were also extended to lithium extraction technology firm Lilac Solutions, which was awarded $129 million to help with the development of its project in Nevada, which will look to unlock lithium production from currently unviable resources.

Rounding the investments in the lithium space, the DoE also included a grant for the instalment of the first lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) cathode facility in the US.

Chemical company ICL-IP America was granted $197,338,492 for the development of the facility which will have two production lines, capable of producing 15,000 tonnes of LFP powder annually, with the first production forecast in just under three years.

According to consultancy firm Roland Berger, LFP batteries are forecast to make up approximately 14% of all batteries in the US, including those used in EVs and energy storage systems (ESS).

Graphite and anodes a key feature

In terms of natural graphite, the new law seeks to develop enough battery-grade graphite to supply approximately 1.2 million EVs annually.

Graphite is the largest ingredient in the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.

The major natural graphite project laid out in the initiative is the phase three expansion of Syrah Technologies’ active anode material (AAM) facility in Vidalia, in the US State of Louisiana.

Syrah is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and has the world’s largest flake graphite mine in Balama, Mozambique.

Fine graphite flake is the feedstock for AAM.

Syrah Technologies agreed to a $102-million loan from the DoE in July to expand its graphite anode material project in Louisiana to 11,250 tonnes per year, the company announced in July.

The latest plan will build upon the expand the production capacity from 11,250 tpy to at least 45,000 tpy of AAM.

“Upon start of production of the 11,250-tpy facility, Syrah’s Vidalia facility will be the only vertically integrated and large-scale natural graphite AAM producer outside China and the first large-scale natural graphite AAM producer in the USA,” the US government stated.

The project has a federal cost share of $219,820,610 and a recipient cost share of $224,996,240, according to the DoE fact sheet released as part of Wednesday’s announcement.

The graphite used in anodes for lithium-ion batteries used in EVs and critical energy storage applications can be natural, synthetic or a blend of the two.

Two synthetic graphite projects are included in the initiative, with Novonix and Anovion both recipients of grants.

Novonix produces lower carbon intensity, high performance, synthetic graphite for the EV and ESS, according to the DoE.

The synthetic anode material company is building a 10,000-tpy plant in US and will build a 30,000-tpy plant to target the EV sector.

The federal share of the cost is $150 million compared to Novonix’s $877,260,704.

Anovion with its partners, collaborators and stakeholders will build 35,000 tons per annum of new synthetic graphite anode material capacity.

The US company will expand its existing manufacturing capacity in New York state. This is currently the only qualified US source of battery-grade synthetic graphite in commercial production, according to the DoE factsheet.

The project has a federal cost share of $117 million and a recipient cost share of $294 million.

Additionally, four other anode companies are due to receive grants from the DoE with a focus on replacing graphite in lithium-ion battery (LIB) anodes with silicon.

Sila Nanotechnologies plans to build a silicon-anode factory in 2025 ramping up to full production of 20 gigawatt-hour equivalent of material the following year to become the world’s largest silicon-anode production facility.

Amprius has a project to develop cells using silicon nanowire anode technology with a higher specific energy and lower cost than graphite cells.

And Group 14 Technologies will develop silicon-carbon composite to lower battery cost and carbon footprint compared to graphite anode material.

Finally, Applied Materials will manufacture lithium films for the pre-lithiation of graphite or silicon anodes as well as lithium metal anodes.

Nickel also features

Rounding out the investments in cathode materials, nickel, the key to high energy density lithium-ion batteries, was also featured in the grants, with the DoE outlining its intention to support the domestic production of 400,000 EVs’ worth of nickel.

Talon Nickel USA was awarded close to $115 million to construct a processing facility for nickel ore and support Talon’s supply agreement with automotive company Tesla, to which it has agreed to supply 75,000 tonnes of nickel.

The company has previously outlined its ambition to develop the world’s first carbon-negative nickel mine at its Tamarack project in the US State of Minnesota.

Production is expected to begin in 2026, with initial rates of 18,600 tonnes of nickel annually and will become one of the country’s few operational nickel mines, with much of the country’s focus being on sourcing nickel through the recycling of li-ion batteries or from other resources.

Domestic supply of nickel is a hot topic within the market currently, particularly in terms of class one material within the market as the industry monitors discussions around the acceptability of Russian material in the market.

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