Energy Storage

Advancing Lithium-Ion Battery Technology: The Role of Silane in Silicon-Based Anode Materials

In the midst of the energy transformation taking place around the world, lithium-ion batteries stand as pivotal components for both electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems, demanding momentum in technology advancements to encourage greater adoption. As the race for affordable next-generation batteries intensifies, a seemingly unassuming yet significant component takes center stage: silane.

POWER magazine recently connected with George Schlowsky, president of Koch Modular Process Systems, and Vincent Pluvinage, CEO at OneD Battery Sciences, to better understand the utilization of silane in the manufacturing of EV battery materials. The conversation followed the recent announcement of a partnership between OneD Battery Sciences and Koch Modular Process Systems, which is aimed at scaling up silicon-graphite anode materials for the next generation of affordable EV batteries.

POWER: How exactly does silane contribute to battery performance?

Schlowsky: Silane doesn’t directly find its way into batteries, but it’s a key component in crafting materials essential for battery technology, especially in lithium-ion batteries. Picture silane as a sort of building block—it contains silicon and hydrogen and acts as a precursor for making silicon-based anode materials.

Silicon nanoparticles, crucial for battery anodes, need silane to come to life. Converting the silane gas into silicon filaments inside graphite particles (also called nanowires because of the very small diameter), these nanoparticles tackle the pesky expansion and contraction issues during battery use, boosting stability and performance.

POWER: What’s the current status of silicon in the lithium-ion battery industry?

Pluvinage: Currently, lithium-ion batteries predominantly use graphite for their anode electrodes. However, silicon is becoming a promising alternative because it can store more lithium, potentially giving us batteries with higher energy density. It’s not a surprise that the silicon battery market stands at $55 million, with projections soaring to $414 million by 2028. (Note: These figures, provided by research firm MarketsandMarkets, are about 1/10 of other market research firms and our own data from primary research.)

POWER: How do battery material manufacturers procure silane?

Schlowsky: Silane is a bit of a wild card—it’s flammable, reactive, and pretty toxic. So, it makes shipping extremely dangerous and costly. Manufacturers realistically have two options to acquire silane: either co-locate next to an existing silane plant (which is limiting in many ways, but doable) or build their own.

That’s where our partnership with OneD Battery Sciences highlights the significance of opting for the latter. We’re teaming up to design and construct a modular electronics-grade silane plant that will be installed right next to their SINANODE factories. This strategic partnership means they can access a large amount of silane at a very attractive cost and process it into EV-grade graphite powders for their silicon-graphite anode materials.

POWER: What are the benefits of having direct access to silane?

Pluvinage: Partnering with Koch Modular is an economically viable method for expanding silane production to meet the demand for silicon anodes in lithium-ion batteries. Utilizing their modular design and delivery model, the process becomes quicker and more cost-effective. OneD situating the Koch Modular silane plant adjacent to the SINANODE facility means the silane supply can be seamlessly integrated via a pipeline. This strategic placement allows for selecting locations abundant in affordable hydroelectric power and suitable for obtaining high-quality EV-grade graphite, optimizing efficiency, and reducing operational costs.

POWER: What does the future hold for silicon-based anodes in the lithium-ion battery industry?

Pluvinage: OneD’s SINANODE technologies takes a fundamentally different approach to silicon anode manufacturing. SINANODE successfully manufactures nano-silicon to lower the cost of anode electrodes in EV batteries, providing OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] with a fully developed scalable manufacturing process to support flexible cell design options. This removes the need to manufacture a new expensive carbon substrate to host silicon. Instead of displacing EV-grade graphite producers, SINANODE provides higher performing EV batteries at a lower cost.

OneD and Koch Modular are currently designing the first integrated North American plant to produce 20,000 tons of silicon-graphite anode material per year, enough for the batteries of about 1,000,000 EVs annually. Implementing silicon will revolutionize the battery industry by reducing the cost of batteries while increasing their capacity and performance.

—This interview was contributed to POWER by Koch Modular Process Systems.

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