Battery Anode Material Project, USA

Battery Anode Material (BAM) Overview

Graphite a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage systems, both rapidly growing markets. Syrah believes that further downstream processing of it Balama natural graphite concentrate presents a major potential opportunity to accrue additional value for shareholders.

Coated spherical graphite is a high value, processed graphite product which is used to produce battery anode material (BAM) for anodes in lithium (Li) ion batteries. As a result of increasing global demand from electric vehicle and grid storage applications, the Li-ion battery market is expected to see significant growth over the medium term.

Battery anode producers are dominated by China, Japan and Korea. Natural spherical graphite (battery anode material) for the battery anode is currently all sourced from China. Syrah’s BAM production will provide a strategic and valuable alternative source of anode material, underpinned by Syrah's Balama Graphite Operation. 

Syrah's BAM Strategy

To achieve near term production to qualify BAM products allowing Syrah to capture a first mover advantage and establish a core ex-Asia battery supply chain position for Syrah’s product.

Priorities

The Battery Manufacturing and Battery Anode Material markets continue to evolve quickly – and Syrah’s BAM strategy is evolving as the Company gains deeper insight into this market through its position as a major supplier of natural flake graphite.

Syrah’s BAM priorities include:

  • Rapid development of BAM qualification product to demonstrate quality and performance, refine product options
  • Initial focus on qualification volumes Syrah’s BAM facility in Louisiana USA
  • Progress strategic relationship discussions

The flow chart below shows Balama's natural flake graphite progression through the battery supply chain

(1) Louisiana site currently has 5ktpa of milling and 1ktpa purification capability with optionality to later add coating capability

(2) Purifying can be achieved chemically or thermally. Plan for Syrah BAM plant to be capable of chemical purification

Syrah's Battery Anode Material Facility, USA

In August 2018, Syrah completed its purchase of a 25 acre Battery Anode Material site in Vidalia, Louisiana in the USA for US$1.225 million. First production of unpurified spherical graphite was successfully achieved at the end of 2018, with qualification samples dispatched to target customers in early 2019.

Key features:

  • Relevant environmental permits in place
  • Initial milling capacity 5ktpa (two dual lines of 2.5ktpa each)
  • Initial production will focus on qualification volumes and batch scale purification

Establishing a facility in Louisiana has a number of advantages including:

  • Proximity to customers based in the Americas and expected colocation of supply chain in the medium to longer term
  • Access to skilled workforce
  • Availability and cost of key inputs such as power
  • Proximity to chemical suppliers with strong track record of responsible and safe handling of product
  • Proximity to excellent infrastructure (rail, road, river and port)

Given the size of the site, Syrah has the potential to expand future capacity in line with:

  • Acceptance of qualification volumes
  • Outcomes of scale-up and coating technology studies
  • Geographic demand growth
  • Strategic relationship options

Syrah's Battery Anode Material (BAM) plant in Louisana, USA

BAM milling equipment

Production Process

In order to maximise production yields, -100 US mesh natural graphite is the optimal material to use as feed stock in the spherical graphite production process. A smaller spherical graphite size produces a larger surface area which has a higher density and increases storage capacity.

Initially, -100 fines natural flake graphite sourced from Syrah’s Balama Operation is milled to produce spherules or “unpurified spherical graphite”. The spherules are then chemically purified to over 99.95% fixed carbon content (“purified spherical graphite”). Finally, a specialty coating (layer of carbon with proprietary technology) is applied to the precursor spherical graphite material to produce Battery Anode Material.

  • Typically, 2 to 3 tonnes of feed stock (fines flake graphite) is required to produce 1 tonne of spherical graphite (or similarly 2-3kg fines flake graphite required to produce 1kg or spherical graphite)
  • Yield loss on producing spherical graphite is caused as the edges of the flakes break during the spheroidization process
  • Approximately 1kg of coated spherical graphite is required to produced 1KWh of energy from a Li-ion battery.

Quality Assurance 

At Vidalia, Syrah plans to initially produce qualification volumes of BAM. Customer qualification is required for quality and performance assurance. Safety and reliability is paramount to battery cell manufacturers and battery materials need to comply with strict product and manufacturing process qualification. The qualification period increases as the BAM product is used further down the value chain. Customer priorities include product consistency, moisture content and electrochemical performance.

Milled unpurified spherical graphite for customer qualification from Syrah’s BAM facility in Louisiana

Commercial Scale Plant Development

In late 2018, Syrah completed its Phase 1 commercial scale BAM plant feasibility study for 10ktpa and 40ktpa capacity. This was followed by a major flow-sheet, capital expenditure and product review in early 2019. The new base plan provides attractive economics and affords significant further opportunity for product development and processing cost improvement during development. Further capital efficiency options are under review for coating, carbonisation and graphitisation for Phase 2 of the feasibility study.

Research and Development

In conjunction with Cadenza Innovation Inc. (Cadenza), testing and benchmarking of the electrochemical properties of Syrah’s battery anode materials (BAM) using Balama material has established a performance baseline against existing high-quality BAM products from Japan, Korea and China. Key variables tested include, physical and electrochemical properties, composition, structure and performance. This work was completed in early 2018.

Positive results of Syrah’s testing and benchmarking of precursor (uncoated spherical graphite and uncoated purified spherical graphite) and finished BAM products (coated purified spherical graphite) reconfirms: 

  • Syrah’s precursor materials have the essential core properties required by the global battery industry
  • Syrah’s finished BAM products, produced using industry standard processing, demonstrate equivalent electrochemical performance to tier 1 competitor products allowing market entry and typical qualification periods to comparable products in the current BAM market.

Syrah unoptimised precursor material (unpuridfied spherical graphite from pilot plant) benchmarking outcome

Key Variables Aim of Test Outcome of Syrah Precursor Material
Crystallinity (structure) Evaluate the spacing between the layers of carbon atoms in the graphite structure and the size of the crystallite domains. These parameters indicate how close the structure is to a perfect graphite structure and determine the capacity for lithium storage in the material. Syrah crystallinity matches existing Li-ion anode precursors enabling supply chain entry.
Capacity (performance) Determine the practicable capability of the material to store lithium when formulated as a lithium ion electrode. The theoretical capacity for graphite is 372 mAh/g.

The capacity of the electrode materials determines the energy density of a battery. Using material with higher energy density (volumetric and gravimetric basis) enables longer-lasting batteries – increased range/time between charging.
Syrah precursor demonstrates high 365-370 mAh/g capacity.
Shape and particle size distribution (composition) Determine the morphology of the particles as well as the number and volume fraction of particles of each size. This determines important performance parameters for the material when formulated into an electrode such as rate capability (power), packing density (energy), and cycle life. Similar shape and particle size distribution as industry leading precursor materials.
Density The ability of the particles to compress to a goal density at a given pressure is an important parameter for manufacturing of electrodes in a high volume plant. The material density affects the battery energy density. Density characteristics match industry leading materials.
Surface area Surface area is important for the balance between battery life, rate capability and energy density. Generally high surface area materials have better rate capability but shorter life and lower energy density. Matches industry standard material of similar composition.
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Full cell testing utilising Syrah’s coated spherical product (using prior non optimised pilot plant production) has been completed with a global top 10 battery producer. Results indicate good performance across most key parameters, and positive performance to similar established products on the Li-ion battery market, enabling market entry. Performance optimisation opportunities have been identified as part of Syrah’s ongoing product development program.

Combined with the benchmarking and test results of Syrah’s precursor and finished BAM products, a baseline of battery performance properties is being established to facilitate market entry.

Syrah continues to engage with potential BAM customers to refine product requirements and development of supply chain cooperation with ongoing product development to accelerate entry into the final anode product.

Date Milestone
Q1 2019 Qualification samples of unpurified spherical graphite dispatched to target customers
Dec 2018

Phase 1 commercial scale BAM plant (10ktpa and 40ktpa) feasibility study completed

First production of unpurified spherical graphite from Syrah’s BAM facility in Louisiana

First shipment of Balama natural flake graphite from Mozambique delivered to BAM site in Louisiana, USA

Aug 2018 Purchase of 25 acre Battery Anode Material site in Vidalia, Louisiana in the USA for US$1.225 million completed
Dec 2017 Testing and benchmarking of the electrochemical properties of battery anode materials using Balama material completed
Jul 2017 Syrah entered into an exclusive research and development agreement with Cazenza Innovation Inc for advancement in graphite anode technology
Nov 2015 Licence agreement signed with Morgan Hairong Co Ltd for its proprietary spherical graphite coating technology
Jun 2015 Internal economic assessment for coated spherical graphite facility in USA completed
Jan 2015 Battery anode produced from coated Balama spherical graphite with initial test performance exceeding leading Chinese manufacturers
Nov 2014 Battery grade uncoated spherical graphite successfully produced from Syrah’s spherical graphite pilot plant in China
Mar 2014

Purchased pilot spherical graphite plant in Guangzhou China to produce product samples

Spherical graphite produced from Balama flake graphite

 Operating principle of a lithium-ion battery

  • Lithium-ion batteries exhibit fast charge and discharge rates
  • During charge, lithium-ions migrate towards the negative electrode, electrons are stored from an external energy source
  • During discharge, lithium loses electrons in the negative electrode and these electrons drive an external load

Graphite (both natural and synthetic) is expected to remain the key component of anodes in lithium-ion batteries. The graphite anode mass in the lithium-ion battery is consistent and largely agnostic of cathode chemistry.

Synthetic graphite has traditionally been a major anode material (~55%) with natural graphite accounting for the balance. However, due to improvements in natural graphite quality (mainly in relation to other orientation property and tap density) and its lower cost, the use of natural graphite in anodes is expected to increase.

Battery anode producers currently dominated by China, Japan and Korea

Figures represent number of key Battery Anode players per region