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Chemical Engineering
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Direct molten-salt electroplating cuts battery costs

| By Mary Page Bailey

The extremely high material purity demanded for conventional lithium-ion battery manufacturing creates considerable costs for transporting and refining lithium and other raw materials. Through the development of a single-step electroplating process that uses lower-purity raw materials and a nanostructured-foam electrode architecture, Xerion Advanced Battery Corp. (Kettering, Ohio; ) aims to significantly decrease the costs, energy and carbon emissions in manufacturing batteries. Modeled after principles from the Hall-Héroult electroplating process used in aluminum refining, the company’s DirectPlate technology combines purification, synthesis and deposition into a single step — requiring only molten salt to dissolve precursor materials, which can be directly deposited onto aluminum foil to create the electrode. “We don’t need battery-grade starting materials to make a high-quality, high-performance battery, because the electroplating process is inherently also a refining technique. We can use technical-grade, around 80% pure, lithium hydroxide or lithium sulfate. We’ve shown we can even use impure lithium chloride from brine sources or the mining concentrate itself from hard-rock processing,” explains John Busbee, Xerion CEO and co-founder. Furthermore, once lithium is used in the molten-salt bath, silica can be isolated and used for the anode, and refined cobalt can be recovered as a valuable byproduct. Also, adds Busbee, since the molten-salt bath contains no organic materials, there is no need for recovery or re-distillation of the solvent, which is a significant source of energy consumption in traditional battery-manufacturing processes.

Xerion commissioned a lifecycle assessment for its manufacturing process, which showed that by using 80% lithium sulfate directly and avoiding traditional refining steps, the process realizes a 20–40% reduction in overall carbon emissions compared to other lithium-ion battery processes. Xerion has been running the process for several years at pilot scale, and work is currently underway to build out a new production line in Dayton, Ohio in early 2024, followed by larger plants in Dayton in late 2024 and a plant in Florida in 2026.

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