Altech Chemicals (ASX:ATC) announces joint venture with Fraunhofer IKTS


by Tim McGowen

Altech Chemicals Limited (ASX:ATC) Managing Director Iggy Tan discusses the advantages of the company's sodium alumina solid state batteries over lithium-ion batteries, and the roadmap ahead to commercialisation.

Tim McGowen: We're speaking today with Mr Iggy Tan, who is the Managing Director of Altech (ASX:ATC). If you don't know the company, ASX code ATC, it's got a market cap of around $100 million. The company is at the cutting edge of developing materials for a lithium-ion battery future and its technology incorporates silicon in graphite anodes to produce higher energy density batteries. Iggy, welcome back to the network.

Iggy Tan: Thanks for having me, Tim.

Tim McGowen: Now, Altech recently announced some very exciting news on solid state batteries. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Iggy Tan: Yeah, Tim. We have recently announced a joint venture to commercialise brand-new technology, which is sodium alumina solid state technology batteries. So, essentially we know that the lithium-ion batteries are great batteries, but they tend to have fires and explosions and thermal runaway. Our sodium alumina solid state batteries are totally fire proof and explosion proof, and it doesn't lead to thermal runaway. Our life of the battery generally lasts beyond 15 years. As you know, lithium batteries tend to last about eight to 10 years. This is nearly double the life of lithium-ion batteries. And then finally, as you know, the lithium-ion battery only operates at a very narrow temperature range. So, in the very cold climates, the battery tends to slow down. Our batteries can operate in very cold climates as well as desert environments, so a very wide range in the operating temperature of these batteries.

Tim McGowen: And critical minerals used in lithium-ion batteries are causing some concerns for the industry?

Iggy Tan: Absolutely. As you know, lithium is the most critical component in the lithium-ion batteries and you've seen that the price of lithium has gone up sixfold in the last 12 months, and that's putting a lot of pressure on the production costs of lithium batteries. The other main component is cobalt. 70 per cent of cobalt comes from Congo in the Africa, and the industry are very concerned about that ethical supply coming from Congo. Finally, on the anode part of the lithium-ion battery, you've got graphite and copper. And basically 90 per cent of the graphite in lithium-ion batteries come from China, and the industry is realising the geopolitical risk with one country providing all that graphite for the lithium battery industry. And finally copper, 2.5 times more copper is used in an electric vehicle than a standard vehicle. And there's a recent report that says that we don't have enough copper mines or expansions coming up to meet the EV forecast that is coming up in the next decade or so. So, these four elements are critical to the lithium-ion battery. And what I want to say to you, Tim, is that we don't use lithium. We use common salt, which is readily available. We don't have cobalt in our batteries. We don't even have an anode part of the battery -- we don't have graphite or we don't have copper. So, this is a big reason that these batteries will be game-changing for the grid storage market. We are not prone to the critical element price rises that we've seen, and also the supply chain concerns.

Tim McGowen: That sounds like a very exciting innovation. How do you go about commercialisation of your sodium alumina sodium state batteries?

Iggy Tan: We've teamed up with a leading German battery institute called Fraunhofer IKTS and basically they've done all the work in the last eight years. They spent nearly 35 million euros in research and development. In fact, they also have a 25 million Euro pilot plan that is operating and producing these batteries. So, these batteries are currently in tests, performance criteria and virtually ready to commercialise. And so that's what we are bringing to the table. We are a partner that has land in Germany, we also have battery experience and we also have alumina experience, which is really the solid state part of that battery.

Tim McGowen: And are these batteries just for the grid storage market?

Iggy Tan: Yeah, we are very focused on this technology for the grid storage market. Essentially that market is growing at 28 per cent year on year, expected to go from 4 billion to about 15 billion. Now, let's put it in the context of Australia. We essentially have a lot of solar panels that capture the energy when the sun's shining, but at night we don't have that energy storage or cheap-enough energy storage that we can put it back and use it during the night-time. So grid storage is about really storing the sun's energy and using it at night, and also in grid storage they do things like peak shaving and gives it stability on the grid using that battery storage.

Tim McGowen: And the European Union has obviously been very supportive of these sort of initiatives. Is government funding a possibility further down the track?

Iggy Tan: Absolutely, yeah. Europe is very focused on, obviously EVs, and the grid storage. Due to regulations, all the car manufacturers in Europe have announced all electric vehicles by 2030 or 2033, so they're very committed and there's something like six hundreds gigawatts of battery capacity production being announced for Europe. So, we are very focused on Europe and our batteries will add to that production capacity specifically for the grid storage market.

Tim McGowen: Can you give us a timeframe in terms of what shareholders can look towards in the future?

Iggy Tan: The joint venture that we executed, we are a majority shareholder, 75 per cent of the joint venture, and we will build this hundred megawatt sodium alumina solid state battery plant in our land in Saxony, Germany. A hundred megawatts represents 10,000 modules that are around… each module is about 10 kilowatt hours. And that production capacity will have to go through a final feasibility study, but we are very confident that all the work's already been done and we'll get to commercialisation very quickly. So, very exciting times ahead, really game changing technology for the grid storage market.

Tim McGowen: Iggy, nice talking to you. Thanks for your time.

Iggy Tan: Thank you, Tim.


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