Nanoparticles Pave the Way for a Million-Mile EV Battery
Tom Lombardo posted on January 27, 2020 |
An inexpensive cathode-coating process may be the key to longer-lasting batteries.
(Image courtesy of Nano One.)
(Image courtesy of Nano One.)

Tesla recently announced that a million-mile electric vehicle (EV) battery is technologically feasible and should be available in the near future. According to a detailed study published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, a long-lasting lithium-ion battery is made possible by certain electrolytes in conjunction with a nanomaterial coating on the cathode. The coating decreases the cathode’s resistance, resulting in less heat and greater performance. In addition, it protects the ca  thode from degradation, increasing the battery’s longevity. The only problem is that the nanomaterial coating process is costly, time-consuming and energy-intensive.

Nano One

The good news is that Canadian upstart Nano One has patented a process that creates these monocrystalline cathodes inexpensively, quickly and efficiently. Engineering.com covered that story back when Nano One had just received a grant enabling it to build a pilot plant. Now that the plant has been up and running for a while, I spoke with Nano One founder and CEO Dan Blondal, who updated me on the progress the company is making on both the technical and business sides.

Since the pilot plant was completed, Nano One has optimized its reactors, allowing the facility to produce 300 tons of cathode material per year—that’s enough for 2,400 EV batteries at 60kWh each. A full-scale production plant would produce 10 times that quantity.

Having satisfied the requirements of its $4 million grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a foundation created by the Canadian government to support Canadian companies with the potential to become leaders in sustainable design, Nano One has been approved for another $5 million grant to support its “Scaling Advanced Battery Materials” project. The company plans to use the funds in conjunction with three initiatives in the battery cathode market: lithium iron phosphate (LFP), lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), and lithium manganese nickel oxide (LMNO). Blondal elaborated on those projects.

Dan Blondal, Nano One CEO. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)
Dan Blondal, Nano One CEO. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)

“Our LFP work is primarily focused in China with our joint development partner Pulead; however, there is a groundswell of interest in LFP coming back to North America for industrial, fleet vehicle, bus, and grid storage applications. Our NMC work is focused on developing much needed additive and coating technologies to make batteries more durable and longer lasting. We are partnered with VW and several other global automotive OEMs on this front. We are differentiated from others on NMC with strong intellectual property on coated nanocrystalline (single crystal) powders where durability improvements have the potential to improve range, cost and/or weight. In light of the global push for zeroemissions and the OEM crusade for higher energy density, we believe that single crystal NMC could add tangible value to electric vehicles and is a massive opportunity for Nano One. Our LMN initiative is focused on high voltage, power, and applications in solid-state batteries.”

Cathode Making Process

The aforementioned study, which was partly sponsored by Tesla Canada, was based on the research of Jeff Dahn, an expert in battery chemistry. Although the study focused on electrolytes, all of the batteries had a special coating on the cathodes, similar to the coating that Nano One provides. The difference is that the cathodes used in the study were made using the standard method, which is more energy intensive than Nano One’s patented process.

Multiple steps vs one step. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)
Multiple steps vs one step. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)

The conventional process of making monocrystalline NMC involves several days of intense heating, which aligns the crystalline structure and eliminates most of the fracture-prone grain boundaries. In addition to the process being energy intensive and costly, crystals grow large during the process, making high charge and discharge rates a challenge. In addition, the extended time in the furnace causes adverse cation exchange, as lithium and nickel trade places in the crystal lattice, reducing capacity and stability. Finally, it’s a multistage process, which limits the production capacity of a manufacturing facility.

According to Blondal, “Nano One’s monocrystalline NMC is formed by mixing all components in a one-pot aqueous reactor, such that all components are homogeneously mixed with crystals forming prior to the furnace. When fired in the furnace, the monocrystalline particles and the coatings form quickly at the same time. This avoids the throughput, energy and capital utilization issues.” Additionally, the particles remain small, allowing high charge and discharge rates, as lithium can get in and out more quickly with smaller particles.

The advantages of the Nano Oneprocess. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)
The advantages of the Nano Oneprocess. (Image courtesy of Nano One.)

Million-Mile Battery?

EVs are superior to their internal combustion engine counterparts in virtually every aspect except for one: the fuel tank. Although superchargers and large battery capacities have helped alleviate range anxiety, quick charging tends to reduce a battery’s life. As a result, the battery continues to be the Achilles Heel of the electric vehicle, lasting only about 10 years—less than half of the vehicle’s expected lifespan—and accounting for nearly half the purchase price of the vehicle itself. A million-mile battery, enhanced by protective coatings that can withstand high charging rates, could be just what the doctor ordered.


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