SOCIALLY DISTANT BUT FAR-REACHING: AETC’S 2021
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
As 2021 draws to a close, AETC is pleased to reflect on its outreach activities. In this year, AETC employees participated in two events hosted by the Society of Economic Geologists (SEG), attended the Defense Manufacturing Conference (DMC), presented at the Advanced Manufacturing Symposium on Graphite at the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), and had work featured multiple times in the NAATBATT’s Advanced Battery Weekly publication.
AETC participated in two SEG webinars in 2021, “Speaking of Electrodes” and “Circular Economy - Building Resilient Supply Chains with Reuse and Recycling”. We are thrilled to be working with SEG and to be sharing our expertise as a member of the graphite supply chain for electric vehicles. Just before the first discussion, AETC had shipped its first truckload of battery-ready graphite for lithium-ion batteries. Read more about this important milestone and the launch of our spherical graphite plant here.
In the first webinar, AETC representatives elucidated the importance of building a robust domestic supply chain for industrial graphite and carbon. In 2021, the graphite industry was confronted with supply chain inefficiencies due to its historic dependence on raw materials of Asian origin. In the post-pandemic world, the industry faced major delays and price increases in the International transport logistics. On average, the price of graphite in the United States increased by 30%, and this inefficiency contradicted the desire of automotive and specialty battery manufacturers. Thus, domestic manufacturing and raw material sourcing are key – AETC’s operations in Arlington Heights, IL address exactly that.
In the second presentation, AETC discussed the important subject of reuse and recycling of carbon materials from spent lithium-ion batteries. Currently, the recycling of lithium ion batteries aims to extract primarily nickel and cobalt. However, this is not a sustainable practice, since cell manufacturers are always on the lookout for new chemistries and seek to remove nickel and cobalt from batteries completely. On average, an electric vehicle (EV) has 5,000-7,000 cells which need to be replaced every seven years; the extraction of 1-2 grams of nickel and cobalt alone from a cell that weighs 60 grams or more is irresponsible. Due to the novelty of the EV market, their waste stream has not yet been properly considered: US landfills are not equipped to deal with the incoming tons of used EV batteries. Coupled with the decreased need for nickel and cobalt in batteries of the future, EV battery recycling, as it currently stands, will be de-incentivized in the coming years. AETC makes the case that graphite extracted from lithium-ion batteries and processed for reuse in new cells could be the technology that justifies the continued recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries. Presently, prices for premium quality spherical graphite in the US exceed $20,000/ton, which is reason enough for companies to carry on with recycling. Plus, the recycling of EV battery graphite would address the shortage of domestic sources of graphite mentioned above.
DMC is an annual show of cutting-edge technologies developed by businesses working with the US government. AETC co-exhibited with the Defense Logistics Agency to present its recent developments in advanced battery systems, innovative molding technologies, and cultured diamond-based thermal management and semiconductor technologies. We registered formidable interest from both industry and government participants in further pursuit of these initiatives.
The NDIA’s Military Power Sources Committee assembled all the leading graphite and carbon manufacturers in the United States in November 2022 to present their visions and capabilities towards the development of a sustainable graphite supply chain for the needs of the US battery industry, as well as the US and allied governments. AETC spoke about the current and projected market size of battery graphite in the country, key development trends, and critical specifications for materials which find use in contemporary and emerging applications of US-made batteries. Sustainable material processing methods were introduced, including acid-free thermal purification technologies. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion, available at the end of this press release.
Moreover, NAATBATT featured multiple AETC products and development initiatives in its weekly news releases. Topics included the application of an inverted flow sheet for secondary processing of natural graphite, the joint development agreement with a leading battery manufacturer, the commencement of commercial shipments of battery-ready graphite, and others.
In addition to the above, AETC team members performed work directly with the US Navy. In particular, AETC pursued projects in the realm of firefighting foams; One of the key driving forces behind this effort is that conventional PFAS-rich Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFF) described in Military Specification (MIL-F-24385F) must be phased out of use by October 2024 as per the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Commercially available PFAS-free foam (PFF) alternatives do not meet the MIL spec. AETC formulated graphite-enhanced, innovative biodegradable fire retardant foam, working as a new generation of firefighting technology which will likely replace the conventional PFAS-rich AFFF in the near term. Thus, AETC’s technology presents a lucrative future market for our plant.
In our first project, AETC participated in the 2021 SERDP Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFF) Challenge, leveraging graphite prepared in its Arlington Heights, IL Unit C plant to create a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to PFAS-heavy firefighting foams. The challenge culminated in AETC’s sending of biodegradable foam to the Navy Technology Center for Safety and Survivability at the Naval Research Laboratory.
Additionally, after a successful technological demonstration of the firefighting foam performance at the AETC laboratories using smaller-scale extinguishment and corrosion tests, a representative sample was shipped to the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, California for large-scale fire testing by a team of firefighting professionals working for the US NAVY’s Fire Science and Technology Office, Combustion Sciences & Propulsion Branch at NAWCWD, China Lake, California. The test results of experiments performed by the US Government demonstrated that the foam formulation successfully extinguished Class B fires and met military specifications.
AETC looks forward to an even more exciting year in 2022. We wish our current and future customers a successful year!
Learn more about the organizations mentioned here:
Critical Minerals Series (Archive) Speaking of Electrodes - Building Better Batteries With Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Crystallography Thursday, July 8, 2021 2:00pm MDT (UTC-6)
Critical Minerals Series (Archive) Circular Economy Building Resilient Supply Chains with Reuse and Recycling Thursday, December 2, 2021 2:00pm MDT (UTC-7)