Graphene Ball Technology Promises Much Greater Lithium Battery Life

A new breakthrough, developed by Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering professor Jiaxing Huang and a team of researchers promises to overcome life span limitations for lithium-ion batteries – the lifeblood of the new EV revolution.

Lithium companies are already wrestling to deal with the increased demand including FMC (NYSE: FMC), Albemarle Corporation (NYSE: ALB), Orocobre Ltd. (OTC: OROCF) and QMC Quantum Minerals (TSXV: QMC) (OTC: QMCQF).

Advancements in battery technology will be critical to the evolution of EVs. Battery capacity continues to impede progress in this field, with many people afraid of constant recharge stops. But emerging technologies promise to refine battery technology and accelerate the acceptability and mass adoption of the EV sector.

The recent breakthroughs also signal that lithium producers are going to need to increase production efforts including Albemarle Corporation (NYSE: ALB), a leader in the space, FMC (NYSE: FMC), a large lithium producer in South America, as well as newcomer Orocobre Ltd. (OTC: OROCF).

Lithium resources are found in salars or salt brine resources primarily in South America, Australia, and China, as well as hard-rock mineral resources in Canada.

Canadian lithium miner QMC Quantum Minerals (TSXV: QMC) (OTC: QMCQF) is well into two separate hard rock projects in Manitoba’s established lithium areas and already seeing promising results from its initiative.


In conventional lithium-ion batteries, which are popular with electric vehicle manufacturers, lithium is embedded in another material such as silicone or graphite, a configuration that affects battery performance.

Using pure lithium in the anode would yield much more power, but dendrite growth affects the longevity and safety of such a system. The use of porous carbon-based scaffolds which cause preferential deposits of lithium help to reduce the dendrite problem, but it affects the structural integrity of the battery.

The new breakthrough developed by Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering professor Jiaxing Huang and a team of researchers promises to overcome this problem once and for all.

The solution involves using graphene balls stacked together to form a porous scaffold. The graphene scaffold is able to prevent dendrite growth while also preventing stress from changing lithium volumes.

In the battery developed by Huang and his team, the crumpled graphene balls absorb the fluctuating lithium. The balls move apart from each other as lithium deposits, then assemble together when lithium is depleted. Because these balls are conductive and allow lithium ions to flow along their surface with ease, the conductivity and porosity of the scaffold is greatly enhanced.

When graphite is used as the host material in the anode, the stability and conductivity of the system is not optimal.

However, with Huang’s solution, the higher load of lithium is stabilized during cycling and the system is a lot lighter.

Typical batteries can only accommodate lithium measuring tens of microns thick, but in the new configuration, lithium can be as much as 150 microns thick.


In anticipation of the surge in demand from innovations and greater adoption of lithium-ion technology, Canadian miner QMC Quantum Minerals made a bold move into lithium with the acquisition of its Cat Lake Lithium Property (formerly known as the Irgon Mine) in 2016.

Cat Lake is located just 20km from the world class Tanco Mine Property, previously North America’s largest and sole producer of spodumene (Li), tantalite (Ta) and pollucite (Cs) rare minerals.

Between 1953-1954 the Lithium Corporation of Canada Limited drilled 25 holes into the Cat Lake property’s Irgon Dike. That report showed a historical resource estimate of 1.2 million tonnes (metric) grading 1.51% Li20 over a strike length of 365 meters and to a depth of 213 meters.

QMC’s geological team expects the historical drill result is accurate and so they are pursuing a drilling program that will allow them to update this historical resource to industry’s (NI 43-101) standards, making the results current.

Recent samples with greater than 2% Lithium within the Irgon Lithium Mine Property have QMC Quantum stepping up efforts to make Cat Lake a potential production source in an excellent mining jurisdiction.


With researcher Huang looking to file for a patent for this potentially revolutionary configuration, it seems apparent that the popular li-ion adoption trend will get yet another nudge to help hasten its pace.

Many other improvements to li-ion technology besides Huang’s project are in the pipeline, and as the hurdles that prevented mass adoption of EVs are solved, uptake of electric vehicles is expected to grow near exponentially.

The demand for lithium will of course parallel this explosive ride.

Lithium remains a tightly supplied material, and mining investments look to be inadequate at least for the next few years.

By 2030, the global lithium market is expected to grow from the current $1 billion to over $50 billion, with over 25 million EVs expected to be roaming streets at that point.

The price of lithium continues to reflect these events and is creating an incentive for mining junior companies to go after untapped and unexplored reserves.



FMC Corp. is a Philadelphia-based chemical company which is swiftly ramping up its lithium production. Last year, FMC said it was planning to triple lithium hydroxide production capacity by 2019. The first phase of the plan has already started. FMC management also said that it was not ruling out the possibility to spin-off FMC’s lithium segment as a separate publicly owned company. BofAMerrill Lynch recently upgraded FMC stock to “Buy” from “Underperform,” increasing the price target to $103.00 from $66.

Albemarle Corporation (NYSE: ALB)

Albemarle Corporation is a global developer, manufacturer and marketer of highly-engineered specialty chemicals. The Company operates through three segments: Lithium and Advanced Materials, Bromine Specialties and Refining Solutions. Lithium and Advanced Materials segment consist of two product categories: Lithium and Performance Catalyst Solutions. The bromine and bromine-based business includes products used in fire safety solutions and other specialty chemicals applications. The Company serves various end markets, including petroleum refining, consumer electronics, energy storage, construction, automotive, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, crop protection, food safety and custom chemistry services. As of December 31, 2016, the Company and its joint ventures operated 31 production and research and development (R&D) facilities, as well as a number of administrative and sales offices, around the world.

Orocobre Ltd. (OTC: OROCF)

Orocobre Limited operates primarily in Argentina in the mining industry. The Company engages in the production ramp up of its Olaroz Lithium Facility and the operation of Borax Argentina S.A. (Borax Argentina). Its segments include Corporate, the Olaroz project, South American Salars and Borax Argentina. Its primary focus is on exploration for and development of lithium, potash and salar mineral deposits. The Company's assets also include boron mines and processing facilities of Borax Argentina and a portfolio of brine exploration projects. Its Olaroz Lithium Facility is located in the Puna region of Jujuy Province in northern Argentina, over 230 kilometers northwest of the capital city of Jujuy.

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