Dirty vs. Green Graphite, Nickel Supplies for EV Batteries — CleanTech Talk

This episode of CleanTech Talk is part two of a recent conversation I had with RK Equity cofounder Howard Klein. You can listen to part one here.

In part two, we started talking about nickel. It was over a year ago that Tesla CEO Elon Musk was very publicly requesting that nickel miners mine more nickel, especially low-priced and environmentally friendly nickel. What has happened since then? Not a whole lot has changed, as far as we can tell, but there is a Chinese company that’s been working consistently to get to the point where it can mine a large nickel resource in Indonesia. Additionally, though, Howard is especially focused on green nickel from Talon Metals, which has a joint venture with mining giant Rio Tinto. The joint venture — the Tamarack Project — is expected to be a notable source of nickel in North America soon(ish).

Similar to a push for greener nickel, Howard zeroed in on the need for greener graphite, something that almost no one is talking about. Nouveau Monde Graphite is a young company that is completely focused on replacing synthetic graphite with clean natural graphite. What’s the problem with synthetic graphite? The problem is that it’s derived from fossil fuels — from needle coke — and is extremely dirty. Unfortunately, almost no one discusses this or is focused on sourcing greener graphite.

Howard highlighted that although there is typically much focus on the cathodes of batteries in the battery world, the anodes are critical as well and need more attention. According to Howard, 100% of those anodes use dirty synthetic graphite. This is a topic we have to return to in future pieces, but the big emphasis from Howard was that there’s a world of difference between this dirty graphite and green natural graphite.

Nouveau Monde Graphite is aiming to provide natural graphite in a zero-emissions operation powered by hydropower in Quebec, Canada. We’ll be tracking its progress to see how much impact the company can have and how much the industry shifts in this regard.

One key point Howard wanted to note was: “Graphite is like lithium was 3–4 years ago.” There’s just been a lack of understanding in the market around it. Some in the industry expect that to change in the next few years as EV batteries and battery minerals become bigger and bigger topics economically.

We also touched on the hype around silicon-based anodes and the challenges that come with them — problems that no one has been able to solve as far as we’ve seen. In fact, Howard’s comments about silicon anodes reminded me of some commentary Elon Musk shared with CleanTechnica in 2010 when we postulated that Amprius may be acquired by Tesla and may be a big part of Tesla Battery Day. Amprius has been working on silicon-based anodes for a while now. It turned out, though, that Amprius had nothing to do with Tesla or Tesla Battery Day, and despite looking into silicon-based anodes themselves, the Tesla team couldn’t get over some fundamental problems with the use of silicon for battery anodes.

In the latter portion of the interview, we moved from all of that to the more socio-politically complicated matter of US EV battery and mining policy. For much more talk on that subject or any of these matters, listen to the whole conversation on SoundCloud (below), Spotify (above), or another podcasting  network.

You can listen to CleanTech Talk podcasts on 11 different podcast networks: AnchorApple Podcasts/iTunesBreakerGoogle PodcastsOvercastPocketPodbeanRadio PublicSoundCloudSpotify, or Stitcher.

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