A town that lists one large letterbox and a replica coal mine among its top attractions probably isn’t the setting that springs to mind when you think of the global race to produce a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries. But Collie, a town of 7,000 people in Western Australia, is precisely that.
Soon, Collie could be home to one of the world’s first battery anode material producers outside of China. The key component of battery anode material (BAM) is graphite. Often overlooked, the mineral is at the heart of battery anode materials in lithium-ion batteries. And niche as it may sound, BAM is claiming its position in the energy sector’s limelight more and more by the day.
“The opportunity is right now in terms of timing, in terms of demand for the product, and in terms of buyers of the product openly stating in the media and in person that they need to have more than one geographic source of supply,” International Graphite CEO Neil Rinaldi told pv magazine Australia.
The Perth-based startup is one of just a handful of companies seeking to diversify BAM production away from China in time for the imminent global battery boom. But Rinaldi acknowledges that when he heard the startup had decided to open a plant in the remote town of Collie, his first reaction was “Really? And then the penny dropped, and the penny-dropping event was cheap power.”
China currently controls 90% of the market for the purified product that goes into BAM, according to Rinaldi. And that is something that leaves many in the world of battery production a little uneasy, he says.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out why,” he says, noting that a lot of battery manufacturers are eager to diversify their BAM supply. “We intend on being one of the first outside of China. We’re sort of in the first wave of producers, but I think the industry is going to grow quite dramatically over the coming decades – but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?”
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