ASX batteries play Lithium Australia (ASX:LIT) is a step closer to securing intellectual property protection for its proprietary process for the production of phosphate-based cathode materials that allow for cobalt-free lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).

The LIB industry has been trying to reduce its dependence on cobalt, which is a relatively scarce and expensive metal, and often mined unethically.

The Australian Patent Office accepted a patent application from Lithium Australia’s wholly owned subsidiary VSPC, which would confirm its method of synthesising lithium metal phosphates to be novel and inventive, and provide practical solutions for electric vehicle manufacturers seeking cobalt-free batteries.

If the company’s patent is approved, the intellectual property protection for the VSPC process will last 20 years.

Cobalt-free batteries

During the past two years, VSPC has simplified its process for the production of lithium metal phosphate cathode powders, enabling the use of a broader range of raw materials as feed.

The company said the cutting edge process has significantly reduced the cost of manufacturing lithium ferro phosphate (LFP), and lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP).

The technology offers numerous advantages, including the flexibility on the types of lithium raw materials to be selected as feed, which in turn eliminates the use of cobalt.

Most commercial LIBs have up to this point relied on cobalt as the primary material for the cathodes. Cobalt boosts battery life by keeping the layered structure stable.

However, the supply chain for this rare metal is expensive, with two-thirds of cobalt mining coming from the Republic of Congo. This has pushed researchers to work on alternative methods, even as non-cobalt cathodes have so far proved to be lagging in performance.

VSPC’s patented process technology will reduce chemical costs by 15%, which is considerable given that the chemicals used typically account for more than two-thirds of the entire cost of cathode material manufacture.

The technology also integrates well with VSPC’s upstream technology for low-cost production of iron reagents, which reduces chemical costs by a further 10%.

Quick progress on cobalt-free, LFP cathode batteries

The company has been making quick progress on its cobalt-free, LFP technology batteries.

Last week, the company announced that its LieNA pilot plant has been given the green light. The LieNA hydrometallurgical process is used to produce a range of lithium chemicals, including hydroxide, carbonate and phosphate. Lithium phosphate is the ideal precursor to the production of LFP batteries, and will ultimately reduce costs.

In February, the company was also awarded a US patent for its lithium extraction technoloigy, SiLeach. The Sileach process can produce a range of lithium chemicals, including lithium hydroxide, lithium carbonate and lithium phosphate.

Lithium Australia share price

The Lithium Australia share price has been on a tear, surging by almost 200 per cent over the last 12 months.

The share price rose by 10 per cent today after the annoncement to 12.7c.

However, it’s still got a long way to go to reach its 52-week high of 21c reached in January.


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