Archer ready for Lio-ion battery optimisation

by Leena Thomas
Image: Archer Exploration Limited

Archer Exploration Limited (ASX: AXE) has announced that the Company has successfully assembled and tested several lithium-ion battery configurations, incorporating spherical graphite derived from Archer’s Campoona graphite project in South Australia.

The company said that the testing confirmed that Campoona graphite is suitable for next-stage optimisation in lithium-ion battery manufacturing processes with potential off-take partners.

Archer announced that it will request a 12-month extension for the submission of a PEPR for the Campoona Graphite Project to allow it to pursue downstream partnership and development opportunities with lithium-ion battery manufacturers and end-users.

It may be noted that spherical graphite materials are a high-value (US$3,400 to US$4,400 per tonne) materials entry point for the Li-ion battery market.

Campoona graphite project

Archer Exploration Limited holds a graphite-focused resources industry portfolio, with its cornerstone asset being the Campoona Graphite Project on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

The Campoona Graphite Project consists of Campoona ML 6470; Sugarloaf MPL 150; and  Pindarie MPL 151.

Archer and the University of New South Wales had embarked on a research collaboration to demonstrate that Campoona graphite can be used in commercially-scalable lithium-ion batteries.

Full-cell config batteries from Campoona flake graphite

On 21 August 2018, Archer had announced that 99%+ and 95% natural Campoona flake graphite was used to produce commercially scalable full-cell configuration Li-ion batteries at the University of New South Wales.

It may be noted that full-cells are Electric Vehicle market-relevant configurations.

This testing was focused on performance parameters of specific capacitance and cycle stability (Values) in full-cells, and in achieving unoptimised Values in-line with industry state-of-art for Campoona natural flake graphite.

Conversion of natural flake graphite to spherical graphite

On 12 March 2019, Archer announced the successful conversion of 95% and 99%+ natural flake graphite from the Project into high value spherical graphite using proprietary technology developed by Archer’s Japanese Partner for integration into Li-ion batteries.

The company had reported that the spherical graphite were of a uniform 15-micron particle size and a favourable D90/10 ratio less than 3: morphology properties, which meet a key established market requirement for use in lithium-ion battery applications.

Significance of spherical graphite materials

Spherical graphite materials are a high-value (US$3,400 to US$4,400 per tonne) materials entry point for the Li-ion battery market which is forecast to increase to US$130 billion by 2028 with growth concentrated in the Asia Pacific region.

Spherical graphite used in Li-ion battery assembling and testing

Archer reported that spherical graphite derived from Campoona feedstock materials was used in the Li-ion battery assembling and testing.

Archer said that its Campoona graphite materials were used at the anode, with commercially equivalent cathode materials and chemistries used that are commonly found in consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

The cathode materials used to construct the fullcells were lithium-iron phosphate (LFP), and lithium-cobalt oxide (LCO), and the batteries were prepared as coin-cells.

AXE said that half-cell configurations were also prepared for simple testing.

Latest testing successful

The company reported that unlike the testing done in August 2018, the current prototyping and testing tested reproducibility and repeatability in spherical graphite Values in both half-cell and full-cell configurations.

This was done to address a prerequisite market requirement of consistency in technical specification for large-volume production and integrated spherical graphite materials in Li-ion batteries.

The company said that the spherical graphite was successfully used to perform charge-discharge cycles in full-cell configurations using LFP and LCO cathodes.

Archer said that the electrochemical behaviour observed in LFP and LCO systems showed normal lithiation processes that proceed inside the respective full-cell configuration with graphitic materials.

The company said that investigations and testing of full-cells are ongoing to assess the specific capacity and cycle stability performance indicators of the spherical graphite against LFP, LCO, and also in lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries.

Spherical graphite vs non-spheroidised graphite materials

The spherical graphite can deliver higher Values over the non-spheroidised graphite materials (half-cell testing).

The spherical graphite purity alone is insufficient to cause a high enough degree of certainty to differentiate Values at lab-scale, with over 50 batteries assembled and tested.

The company said that a higher purity product is found to be important, as, amongst other things, it increases the degree of confidence in reproducibility in the Values.

What’s next?

Archer announced that it plans to investigate high-value added graphite product processes and other market opportunities to ensure that the Company can successfully add value to Campoona to ensure that the project can be successfully developed to return maximum benefit to shareholders and the community.

Archer said that it has now drafted a request to a further 12-month extension to submit a proposed  Program for Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation (PEPR) to the South Australian Government Department of Energy and Mining.

An extension to 4 December 2020 would allow Archer to pursue downstream partnership and development opportunities with lithium-ion battery manufacturers and end-users prior to the completion of a PEPR.

Archer said that in addition to the Campoona graphite project, advanced materials and the development of quantum computing technology remains a core focus of the Company.

The company also noted that graphene materials can alternatively be produced from the Carbon Allotropes inventory and not only from Campoona graphite.

Management comments

Archer CEO Mohammad Choucair said: “Our results indicate that Archer can produce a spherical graphite product which could work in lithium-ion batteries.

There is no one industry standard battery for lithium ion batteries – different manufacturers use different chemistries.

We now have the required information that potential partners with the required resources downstream need to perform the optimisation and therefore integrate Campoona graphite in their batteries”.