Welcome back to The Electric!
This week we look at attempts by a small number of U.S. and Canadian companies to leapfrog China’s hold on the battery manufacturing industry—by reinventing how batteries are made.
Aaron Bent, CEO of 6K, a battery materials manufacturer, says his company has vastly compressed the laborious two to three days of work typically required to refine the metals that make a lithium-ion battery work. Dispensing with decades of battery-making tradition, 6K simply plops a watery stew of metal salts into a gigantic plasma reactor and zaps it a couple of seconds at just under 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (hence 6K). The truncated result is black cathode powder, the nerve center of every electric vehicle battery.
The powder is just one step in the long battery-making assembly line. But 6K's method, if adopted by the industry, could significantly increase American and European competitiveness with China in the global EV and battery race.
Bent’s company, based in North Andover, Mass., is part of a cottage industry of U.S. and Canadian startups with outsize potential to break China’s stranglehold on battery-making. Their answer: Wholly reinvent how the guts of batteries are created. Unsurprisingly, Tesla is leading the way for the automakers: Almost two years ago, it quietly acquired Springpower, a 6K rival based in Ontario, Canada, with the aim of slashing battery costs. (At the time, Springpower didn't appear to be generating revenue.) Now, big auto, chemical and traditional battery developers in the West appear to be paying closer attention to 6K and two other battery-reinvention startups—Nano One Materials and Novonix, which are also based in Canada, a traditional home for raw materials industries.
Still, for the legacy Western EV and traditional battery makers, just paying attention to the startups won’t be enough if they actually want to win: They need to dive in headfirst and buy or try to copy the new companies. At this point, there’s no obvious other alternative.
Americans and ...