Does Graphene Undermine the Tesla Gigafactory Business Case?

ExtantLet’s start with “Extant”. Every Wednesday night on CBS, this TV series returns with a new episode. Apart from the pleasure of watching Halle Berry, the show is compelling due to its combination of adventurous storylines and the use of near-future artificial intelligence technologies. “Extant” is set in an unspecified future with lots of gizmos and gadgets. The most interesting piece of futuristic technology is a robot son who needs his batteries changed every once in a while. Even though “Extant” is a science fiction, I wondered if there is any battery today that could provide the required energy for a robotic son? How long would these batteries last?

The required energy to keep such a robot working is very large because of the millions of sensors and mechanical movement of the robot. The best available batteries today – “Lithium ion batteries (LIB)” – struggle to power an electric car for 300 miles on a 12 hour charge. How do such batteries work and why are they not yet efficient enough?

LIB is the most important member of rechargeable batteries. In such type of batteries, Lithium moves back and forth between two electrodes, called cathode and anode, for charging and discharging. LIBs are common in many consumer electronics and electric cars due to their relatively high energy density (the amount of energy stored in a unit of battery), low hysteresis (after charging and discharging, there is little loss of energy capacity), and a very slow loss of energy when not in used. LIBs consist of a lithium compound as cathode, spherical graphite as anode, and lithium salt as an electrolyte to allow lithium ion movement between the cathode and anode. Increasing the capacity of LIB is dependent upon better materials for cathode and anode. It should be noted that the combination of cathode, anode, and electrolyte is one cell, several connected cells are called a module and multiple modules go together to make up a battery.

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Recently, news regarding the proposed Tesla battery Gigafactory has impacted the industries involved in the LIB supply chain, notably natural flake graphite junior miners. A large component of today’s LIBs is graphite and, for the proposed Tesla factory only, more than 300k metric tons/year graphite would be needed.

I find this all to be a little puzzling. The Gigafactory news has resulted in a boost in graphite market, but graphite-based anodes are not at all adequate for the battery performance required for electric vehicles by 2030. By that date, most hybrid electric cars will have been converted to full electric cars running completely on battery power and without any fossil fuel consumption. This point is not at all controversial amongst scientists and engineers working in the field; the only question for them is what material will replace graphite? The replacement material has to radically improve the performance of existing batteries to  provide longer run times (a larger storage of energy), faster charge times, all with the smallest possible weight and at the lowest possible added cost. Furthermore, the new batteries need to be long lasting (over 1000 cycles) and thermally stable (should not be over-heated during charging). Graphene is a leading candidate for the replacement material.

There are many studies and technical papers showing how graphene can improve batteries. Its outstanding electrical and thermal conductivity enhances the activity of cathodes and prevents over-heating of the batteries. Recent results by researchers from Lawrence Berkley lab introduced lithium-Sulphur graphene compounds that generated twice the energy capacity of current batteries and are stable over 1500 cycles. Such batteries could enable electric vehicles with a range of more than 500 miles on a single charge, which is what future electric cars need.

Given that it will take a few year for Tesla factory to be operational, I anticipate a maximum of 10 years supply of graphite to electric cars. By 2030, graphene will likely replace natural flake graphite in LIBs although a lot of graphite will be consumed by graphene producers. Newer technologies such as Li-air batteries or supercapacitors could replace LIBs as well.

On a tangent, many graphite junior miners reacted to the Gigafactory news by trying to approach Tesla and secure a supply agreement. It has to be noted that companies such as Tesla are not cell manufacturer; they assemble modules to build a battery and install them in the electric cars. Other companies – such as Panasonic that has an agreement with Tesla to provide them with battery cells – are the manufacturers of cells. Therefore, Panasonic will be the buyer and direct consumer of spherical graphite, not Tesla. Direct discussion with Panasonic looks like a better bet.

The future of energy industry is largely dependent upon improved batteries. Such batteries will change our life drastically. In a matter of few years, gas stations will be replaced by electric car charging stations; typical auto mechanics require new certification to repair electric cars, and most probably we will buy a car battery and car manufacturers give us the rest of the car for free! “Extant” only shows us the future, graphene builds it.

My name is Soroush and I will tell you what you need to know to make money in graphene.


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Dr. Soroush Nazarpour

About Dr. Soroush Nazarpour

Dr. Nazarpour (PhD, Nanoscience & M.Sc., Nanotechnology, Universitat de Barcelona and B.Sc., Material Engineering, Sahand University of Technology) has extensive experience in advanced carbon nanomaterials, including device physics, material processing and integration. His current technology focus is the development of advanced graphene composite materials, scalable production processes and the integration of graphene in existing industrial products and processes to create disruptive technologies. Founder, President & CEO of Group NanoXplore, he has been Chief Technology Officer at KN Institute (Tehran), Project Manager at INRS (Montreal) EMT and Research Engineer at Franscesco Albero Co. (Barcelona).
  1. I would like to personally welcome Dr. Soroush Nazarpour as a guest columnist to InvestorIntel. The graphene industry is one of the most explosive and scientifically charged sectors that we have attempted to cover…and any insight Dr. Nazarpour extends and shares with us will be highly valued.

  2. “It has to be noted that companies such as Tesla are not cell manufacturer; they assemble modules to build a battery and install them in the electric cars. Other companies – such as Panasonic that has an agreement with Tesla to provide them with battery cells – are the manufacturers of cells. Therefore, Panasonic will be the buyer and direct consumer of spherical graphite, not Tesla. Direct discussion with Panasonic looks like a better bet.”

    Well Dr. Nazarpour, if you’re going to tell readers what they need to know about graphene, perhaps you might like to revisit your facts about Panasonic’s role in selecting spherical graphite for Tesla, because you are dead wrong.

    Also, you might like to disclose to readers your position with Mason Graphite and Forbes and Manhattan. I seem to recall a press release from Forbes and Manhattan that mentioned you some time ago.

    There is only one Canadian graphene company. It’scalled Grafoid. It has a market valuation of some $200 million and Focus Graphite has a 19% stake in Grafoid, a company I recall you once had a relationship with. What’s that story all about?

    Speaking of graphene, your company, Mason Graphite did a 180 degree about face when Benoit Gascon announced he had no desire to enter the graphene space – or even the value added graphite space (which includes spherical coated graphite for anodes) – because he was content to serve the industrial graphite consuming market.

    So, what gives with you guys?

    • Dear Banker Bob;

      Dr. Soroush Nazarpour clearly discloses his professional roles in his bio. The above piece is written by a respected industry expert, and the content has nothing to do with Mason Graphite.

      As the Publisher of InvestorIntel, I am happy to disclose all advertorial clients and am proud of the graphite companies that support our outstanding professional writers and guest columnists — of which, Mason Graphite is indeed a sponsor.

      It is publicly disclosed that Mason has invested in NanoXplore, just like Focus Graphite has disclosed their investment into Grafoid. This is an exciting space and again, we are just thrilled to have Dr. Soroush Nazarpour as a guest columnist, just as Gary Economo has also been a guest columnist…

      Anyone has an interest in writing, I am easily accessible via phone at +1 416 581 0177 or email at Tracy@InvestorIntel.com. Have a great day and thanks for visiting InvestorIntel…am enjoying reading everyone’s commentary!

  3. Interesting comments from Banker Bob … For the sake of transparency, I too would appreciate hearing from Dr. Nazapour on the points raised.

    • Let’s not stir the pot Tom. As per my response — he discloses his professional roles in his bio. I think it’s great that we have a CEO of a graphene company writing a monthly guest column. This has been offered to numerous experts in all of our members as they often have the most interesting perspective and intel on their associated sectors.

  4. “My name is Soroush and I will tell you what you need to know to make money in graphene.”

    Soroush,
    Based on your solicitation (above) please advise more detail as to what you are offering.

  5. Hello Soroush. Thoughts for future articles:

    In what time frame do you think that Tesla will have to commit to a specific formulation of technology, so that it can start construction of the factory?

    Reading of emerging potential uses for graphene, I think to myself that most of the emerging companies won’t seriously get off of the ground. Which companies do you think will become the big boys in graphene, and why?

    What’s your opinion of vanadium in clean energy? American Vanadium, for example, is trying to make it any way it can in the industry.

  6. Dr Nazarpour,

    I think the key point to take away from this article is that innovation cannot be predicted! Governments and universities create study groups and pour grant money into trying to “discover” and “predict” which materials will be strategic and/or critical in the (near?) future. Small investors, junior natural resource companies, and institutional investors study the reports and attend the conferences of these study groups on the lookout for the next best thing, but the farther out anyone attempts to look the murkier the picture gets.
    The choices of future technologies also depends on the nature of the political grouping. Command economies can impact a market far faster than free market ones. The so-called “green” energy market is driving the HEV/EV “predictions stated here; if that driver slows or reverses due to lack of popular support as energy prices soar then all best are off.
    The graphite market is looking for today’s laboratory demonstrations, such as the graphene electrodes mentioned here, to be transformed into large scale manufacturing engineering. This is very different from the rare earth permanent magnet industry waiting for new sources of heavy rare earths before embarking on any large scale expansion. What is strategic and critical is dependent not only on innovation but also, perhaps more so, on a supply of necessary raw materials being available.
    It is much easier to see opportunity in the supply future of the heavy rare earths than to predict the flow or scale of innovation.
    And please note that the mass production of graphene at the scale necessary will itself require manufacturing engineering innovation.
    I would only invest in natural resource juniors that acknowledge the risks of depending on innovation for success.

    Jack Lifton

    • So thrilled to see you here Jack, thank you! I look forward to your commentary on the space in future video commentaries and columns…

  7. Graphene as has been said, is a super far reaching world changing product.
    Grafoid in their joint venture agreement with the research department of Hydro Quebec have together filed a patent that with further research intends to add graphene into future batteries.
    By itself graphene does nothing, but adding it to something, it’s a world changer.
    Grafoid is said to be a world leader in the graphene world.

  8. Found a company called SiNode Systems that is creating a silicon-graphene lithium-ion battery. They have been given grants from the US Department of Energy (excess of $1m). What i find interesting is that Dr. Bharat Chahar is one of the company’s Advisors. He is currently working with Zenyatta Ventures as the VP of Marketing and Development and had very positive things to say about Zenyatta’s Albany graphite. ( http://www.zenyatta.ca/article/press-release-1317.asp

    What Zenyatta has found is essentially, a very “clean” graphite out of the ground that consists of feldspar, quartz, and graphite. Feldspar and quartz are silica. Graphite itself is the basis for graphene. Back in November, Haydale, out of the UK, signed a distribution agreement with AMG Mining for their Sri Lankan lump graphite to create graphene.

    There is still a very strong case for the Gigafactory with or without graphene. The case for the Gigafactory is more about economics rather than technology. The technology can change, and I have no doubts the gigafactory will retool to keep up.

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