The 18650 revolution – lighting a market the world over
For those who are not familiar with the 18650 cell, it is a size classification of lithium ion batteries. The dimensions are 18mm by 65mm, hence “18650.” If you’ve ever held one in your hand, it is easy to confuse it with the regular AA battery (sometimes referred to as 14500 battery), which is only slightly smaller (14mm by 50mm).
The 18650 cell is as ubiquitous as it is useful. As much as we, in the cleantech world, like to bang on about electric vehicles, the 18650 is participating in an unlikely clean revolution the world over.
To this end, Elcora Advanced Materials Corp (TSXV: ERA | OTCQB: ECORF) (“Elcora”) is well-placed to take advantage of the 18650 growth market. The company recently revealed that independent testing of its refined graphite products has been so successful two battery companies are trialling industry standard 18650 cells using Elcora’s graphite.
According to data from Euromonitor International, the number of traditional cigarettes sold in the United States has fallen 29.6 percent since 2004. This is partly the result of global education campaigns and numerous smoking bans in public places, but have the addicts really kicked the habit? Or perhaps they have simply found a new way to get the same fix?
Vaping devices require up to four 18650 cells, and there are 2.75 million ‘vapers’ in the USA alone. With each battery needing 7.2 grams of refined graphite, that’s 19,800kg per year of graphite! However this estimate assumes that each vaper requires one cell – very conservative in our view. If we take into account the propensity of people to lose these small devices and the power-demands of the pastime’s most committed aficionados, it is not hard to foresee the demand being at least double.
This shift in consumer preferences has not gone unnoticed by major tobacco companies. Over the last few years, hundreds of small e-cigarette manufacturers have found themselves gobbled up by modern history’s most reviled goliaths. Sales of e-cigs in the United States are now estimated to be a $1.5 billion market and are set to grow by 24.2% per year through 2018. It’s no wonder Big Tobacco has been expanding its vape offerings! Indeed the switch may be more an effect of the invisible hand than the discerning one, yet the widespread health benefits of smoking cessation are surely something to be celebrated regardless.
Indeed battery packs for the Tesla Model S vehicle may contain more than 7,100 individual 18650-model cells, but there are countless emerging industries and products alike that will utilise the most common lithium-based power solution. Battery-grade graphite on the other hand requires very high purity levels, typically >99.9% carbon-as-graphite (Cg). This material also needs to be spheroidized using careful processes that Elcora have been busy perfecting at their Sri Lanka based proprietary processing plant. The flat graphite is converted into potato-like shapes, which pack more efficiently into a given space, improving the conductivity of the anode.
Another important factor in the production of natural-flake battery-grade materials is that of wastage. The standard spheroidising and micronizing processes used in China wastes up to 60-70% of the mass of total graphite flakes present during processing. Therefore, for every one tonne of spheroidal graphite produced in China, approximately three tonnes of feedstock materials might be used. Nonetheless, synthetic graphite is twice the cost of battery-grade natural-flake graphite, and is typically derived from petroleum coke and relies on crude oil as its source, rendering it far-less-than-desirable in today’s clean-focused world.
The very high purity of the graphite produced by Elcora qualifies it as chemical grade. This material is suitable not only for lithium-ion batteries but also for a host of other up-and-coming niche industries. Elcora is continuing to move forward with its goal of becoming a vertically integrated producer. Already the company provides both mining and processing under one roof and a site has now been selected to host a proprietary anode manufacturing plant. As such, Elcora has developed an impressively integrated, low-cost, effective and eco-friendly graphite solution that is poised for a very strong 2017.
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