Car design

Disrupting materials design and production for Li-ion batteries.

Infinite Materials and Limitless Possibilities

The market for energy storage materials continues to expand at an incredible rate due to phenomenal growth in portable power, grid storage, and in particular, vehicle electrification. The appetite for both more energy and more power in a smaller space with lower cost is driving innovations in chemistry and cell architecture, and these new technologies present unique materials challenges. At 6K Energy, the power and flexibility of our UniMelt® microwave plasma system makes us uniquely suited to meet these challenges.

While other processes are constrained by the rules of traditional synthesis routes, 6K can produce virtually any material, with chemistry, size, and microstructure uniquely tailored to the power and energy requirements of the application — all with a scalable, low cost, and sustainable manufacturing process.

6K’s UniMelt can produce powders for all key material sets now and in the future

At the heart of 6K Energy is the unique, proprietary UniMelt process, the world’s first high volume microwave plasma production system. This process is disruptive to traditional battery production, design cycles, and cost structures.

UniMelt microwave plasma platform provides:

  • Total chemistry flexibility
  • Independent control of particle size and microstructure
  • Significant reduction in material conversions costs (>50% for NMC)
  • Continuous single-step, high-speed process with low footprint
  • Rapid development spins resulting in faster design cycles

The UniMelt process not only enables development of advanced materials across a wide spectrum of battery markets, it is also well positioned to replace today’s traditional manufacturing processes, which are constrained by the limitations of conventional synthetic routes and processing methods. For example, the production of NMC cathode by today’s coprecipitation route can take 2-3 days, spanning multiple energy-intensive and waste-producing steps. 6K collapses the production time from days to just 1-2 seconds, drastically reducing the conversion costs and production Capex.

UniMelt Technology – a revolutionary sustainable manufacturing process

Not only does producing batteries use a wide range of raw materials, including metals and non-metals, the battery industry can generate considerable amounts of environmental pollutants (e.g., hazardous waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and toxic gases). The development of energy storage is increasingly being looked at as an indispensable component of sustainability. While it is clear that electric vehicles are far and away more sustainable than gas combustion vehicles, the manufacturing processes employed to produce the materials for the batteries used in EV’s is not only dated, but environmentally unfriendly and counter to the mission of sustainability and rationale for EVs.

Lithium ion batteries contain materials spanning the full spectrum, including ceramics, metals, polymers, lithium salts, carbon and graphite, and increasingly, silicon-based materials. While electrification of vehicles and the grid is a key component of a sustainable energy strategy, the manufacturing processes for many key battery materials are not well aligned with the environmental end goals. Traditional material manufacturing processes like coprecipitation (used in production of NMC cathodes) generate large amounts of environmental pollutants, consume huge amounts of water, and use highly energy-intensive processes.

Battery Materials Recycling & Upcycling Using UniMelt Microwave Plasma

With EV production increasing thirtyfold by 2030, the demand for battery materials will increase dramatically.

Energy storage batteries present a huge future waste management challenge — as well as an opportunity. Viable recycling routes for batteries at end of life must be developed to minimize pollution and secure a strong supply of critical raw materials at low environmental cost. With new industrial transformation manufacturing processes like 6K’s UniMelt platform, the idea of recycling and even upcycling battery materials can become a reality.

Today’s recycling processes are environmentally unfriendly and have major drawbacks that make the process complicated and costly, requiring large capital investments. Direct recycling of end of life cathode would bypass the majority of the issues with today’s approach by avoiding the need to go back to the elements, create sulfate salts, then repeat the full cathode coprecipitation process. Unfortunately, cathode at end of life suffers from multiple issues that need to be addressed in order to be reused at full performance: End of Life (EoL) cathode is:

  • Lithium loss to parasitic side reactions, leading to low capacity
  • Mechanical damage from cycling, leading to both low capacity and high impedance
  • Obsolescence  – last-gen chemistry no longer competitive

6K Energy’s direct recycling approach overcomes these limitations, resulting in a much simpler, lower cost, and more sustainable approach. Using 6K’s UniMelt plasma process, the lost lithium is supplemented, the chemistry can be modified to upcycle the cathode to current generation, and the mechanical damage is thermally healed in a matter of seconds.