New pact to boost cathode development

18th June 2021 By: Halima Frost - Senior Writer

New pact to boost cathode development

POWER BALL Spheres precipitated out of nickel, cobalt, and manganese salts are created to make cathode material

Multinational materials technology company Umicore and chemicals company BASF have entered into a nonexclusive patent cross-licence agreement, which covers a range of cathode materials and precursors.

The cathode materials will include combinations, such as nickel/manganese/cobalt, nickel/cobalt/aluminium, nickel/manganese/cobalt/aluminium and high-level manganese, all of which will be obtained from various mines globally.

Cathode materials can be considered as lithium transition metal oxides, with the transition metals being nickel, cobalt and manganese.

For a variety of performance reasons, there are often small amounts of other metals added, but in trace amounts.

One can vary the relative ratio of the transition elements almost from 0% to 100% for each of the three metals.

Manganese is the cheapest of the three metals and tends to contribute to better safety characteristics of a battery cell.

The cross-licence intellectual property (IP) agreement will offer both parties a greater degree of freedom to fine-tune their products to meet the fast-changing requirements of customers.

“This agreement with BASF is an important step in promoting cathode material innovation,” says Umicore CEO Marc Grynberg.

He adds that it will strengthen Umicore’s positioning and further increase its ability to develop bespoke solutions that meet the stringent performance and quality standards of its battery and automotive customers.

The agreement also covers cathode materials with a relatively high manganese content, and it enables both companies to explore new product formulations, focusing on optimal cost rather than the performance ratio of the battery.

The interplay between precursors and cathode materials, and the development of these materials, is crucial to maximise battery cell performance.

The ever-increasing trend towards electric vehicles has resulted in the development of battery materials and, consequently, the manganese supply or demand surge over the last few years.

Both companies have invested intensively in product innovation for low, medium and high nickel precursors and cathode materials, resulting in each company owning sizeable, and largely complementary, patent portfolios.

Umicore and BASF will continue to pilot activity for product and process development of cathode materials in their research facilities.

Through this agreement, both parties can also further increase their product development speed, which demonstrates their commitment to addressing the main challenges – such as energy density, safety and cost, as well as enhanced transparency and reduced IP risks for battery cell manufacturers and customers – of electromobility.

The agreement covers more than 100 patent families filed in Europe, the US, China, Korea and Japan.

Notably, both parties retain the right to enforce their own IP-rights against third parties in the future.

“This agreement with Umicore allows for even faster, more sustainable and innovative battery materials development to serve our customers, including battery cell manufacturers and automotive original-equipment manufacturers,” says BASF catalysts president Dr Peter Schumacher.

“The continuous development of battery materials will accelerate the transformation towards full electrification, thereby supporting the world’s efforts to mitigate climate change.”

Why Manganese?

Cathode materials are crucially important for performance of lithium-ion batteries; they also comprise the highest material cost in the manufacture of a battery cell.

Nickel/manganese/cobalt-type cathode materials are the reference for automotive-type lithium-ion batteries.

The choice of the cathode material composition is determined by the key performance criteria, including the cost efficacy needed for the battery cell.

The low cost of manganese relative to nickel or cobalt is attractive, but it usually comes at the expense of lower energy density and lower long-term stability of battery performance.

Currently, the manganese fraction of the total transition metal content of cathode materials is between 10% and 30%; however, with increased global demand for cathodes, a greater demand for the metal can be expected.