The material-technology company’s pilot plant just north of Toronto uses lithium carbonate to produce lithium metal up to 30 per cent more cheaply, as well as more cleanly, than the conventional process, Frankel said. Most current lithium metal production takes place in China, he said, and relies on rarer lithium chloride, which produces toxic chlorine gas as a byproduct.
Li-Metal’s original aim was direct sales of lithium metal. But as the company built out its production, it also developed a new way to make thin, customizable battery anodes.
Unlike the traditional method of extruding lithium metal into a sheet and rolling it to a specific thickness, “We’re taking that lithium metal and vaporizing it onto a substrate, almost like a spray paint,” Frankel said.
“We are able to start with nothing and perfectly tailor the thickness to what lithium content our customers want . . .”
Li-Metal recently opened a small-scale anode production plant in Rochester, N.Y., and began shipping samples to prospective customers. Ultimately, Frankel said, EV anodes will likely prove to be a far larger market opportunity for Li-Metal than the outright sales of lithium metal it had originally intended.
Obstacles remain, mainly in scaling up the process.
“We have something that works (and) we’re delivering it to customers. We’re tweaking it and we have plans next year to go to the first true commercialization phase, where basically thereafter, growth just looks like printing and repeating,” Frankel said.