Great Lakes Graphite renames to NovoCarbon and builds on scientific bench strength
Do you know the difference between what is hydrophobic and hydrophilic? Simply put, one state repels water, and the other attracts it. Knowing these ins and outs when applied to the space of carbon materials, is what gives NovoCarbon Corp. its competitive advantage.
The group’s management, led by Paul Ferguson, decided to refocus its efforts on levering its in-house scientific capability. One of the major milestones in executing this new strategy led to the February 22nd decision to shed the company’s Lochaber graphite mining project in Quebec in a stock and cash deal, as the company decided to focus on technology and on longstanding talks with major industrial users in battery and lithium-ion space.
A key step in that decision was the company’s deal with Chasm Advanced Materials Inc., a company developing carbon nanotubes that are much stronger than kevlar. The two companies will work together to develop enhanced materials for carmakers. Chasm is one of those companies specializing on carbon technology that survived the bumpy advent of graphene since being discovered by scientists at Manchester University back in 2004. The company is seeking private equity funding to develop a transparent conductive film that can be used on touch screens, and is close to bringing products to market.
NovoCarbon’s expertise is centered around the knowledge of Dr. Gershon Borovsky, an electrochemist and graduate of Moscow University with deep expertise in carbon materials and battery industries. Borovsky’s expertise in the porosity of carbon structures is important for the future of materials used in batteries. Having less pores means surface areas are smaller, significant for size, but also quality of battery material.
Michael Coscia, Senior VP of Sales and Director, has worked for Bayer Chemical and SGL Carbon in a 30-year career dedicated to the area of chemical engineering and materials science. Ferguson, who ran a family office since 2005, has also sat on the board of Great Lakes Graphite since that year and has built up considerable expertise in the graphite industry.
The NovoCarbon-Chasm agreement led to a premise-sharing agreement at Chasm’s Canton, Massachusetts based headquarters and an agreement to pool NovoCarbon’s expertise in applying its carbon knowledge to both traditional lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion batteries. NovoCarbon has an agreement with Niagara Falls-based Ashland Advanced Materials to source purified graphite and is engaged in multi-year talks with a number of influential companies in the car battery industries.
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“We’ve been able to build up our knowledge base and credibility with a prospective client base and all that is starting to come to fruition,” Ferguson said.
Part of the latest thrust towards a customer focused strategy comes amid the backdrop of surging graphite prices, with gains in between 30% and 40% in flake prices in the second half of last year. The price increase gives some hope to investors who have clung onto the stock of companies in this space despite years of poor commodity price performance. The Toronto-based company renamed itself from Great Lakes Graphite to reflect the disposal of Lochaber. The company has also secured a source of high quality flake graphite from Brazil.
The creation of a US company is significant for two key reasons, Ferguson said. Being an American company allows NovoCarbon to lock into a cheaper power source available in the United States. For example, the Niagara Falls area offers cheap electricity rates and is proactively seeking to engage with industrial companies to relocate. Other areas of New York State offer similar arrangements with a wealth of grants and other benefits available for companies seeking to set up in post-industrial towns, he said.
The other key component in this strategy is the growing interest of the Donald Trump administration in securing supplies of what it considers strategic materials, including high quality graphite. NovoCarbon is among a small group of bidders for a contract to identify ways of building a reliable supply chain in the U.S. for graphite. The bidding process, to be determined in a matter of weeks, comes after the U.S. Geological Survey said that the U.S. is entirely reliant on imports for 20 strategic minerals including graphite and other materials used in modern car batteries including cobalt.
Matt Craze has covered commodity markets for more than 20 years, working as a researcher at CRU International, and for over 10 years as a ... <Read more about Matt Craze>