Posted in | Energy | Materials Analysis

DRAGONITE-Based Polymer Electrolytes to Accelerate Commercialization of Solid-State Lithium Batteries

Applied Minerals, Inc., leading global manufacturer of halloysite clay and advanced natural iron oxides, has announced that a research team from the University of Utah has received a USTAR/UTAG grant of $191,700 from the State of Utah to advance the development of solid polymer electrolytes ("SPE") that utilize DRAGONITE halloysite clay for solid-state lithium ("Li") batteries.

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Professor Jan D. Miller and a team of Researchers from the College of Mines and Earth Sciences at the University of Utah have developed an innovative DRAGONITE-based SPE, which is likely to increase the commercial adoption of solid-state Li battery technology. Compared to traditional liquid and gel-based Li batteries, solid-state Li batteries have longer cycle lives, greater storage capacity, and are less expensive to produce.

In addition, solid-state Li batteries also reduce the flammability risk associated with gel and liquid-based technologies. Professor Miller's team includes Professors Yue Lin and Jin Liu of Central South University (China), Professor Xuming Wang of University of Utah, and Research Assistant Qinyu Zhu of University Utah.

Applied Minerals and a group from Brigham Young University headed by Professor John Harb are also providing additional research support.

Technological Challenge of the Solid-State Li Battery Market

With the development of portable electronic devices, solar energy systems and electric vehicles, a demand for improved energy storage systems has grown. Until now, this requirement for energy storage capacity has been served by liquid and gel-based Li battery technology. When the demand has grown for better storage capacity and enhanced safety, electric vehicle manufacturers such as BMW, Tesla, Panasonic and Toyota have announced their plans to develop all-solid-state Li batteries.

Rather than using gel or liquid-based electrolytes, solid-state Li batteries employ solid electrolytes, which make the batteries safer compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries that are currently being utilized. However, the rate of commercial adoption and performance of solid-state Li batteries have been affected by conductivity problems of current solid-state Li battery technology linked to the crystallization of solid polymer electrolytes over a broad range of operating temperatures.

Technological Breakthrough - Role of DRAGONITE

Professor Miller's research team has shown how the integration of DRAGONITE into a polymer electrolyte reduces crystallization over a wide range of operating temperatures, and as a result, reduces the ensuing conductivity losses experienced by current solid-state Li battery technologies. Mainly, this breakthrough is due to the unique surface properties of the nano-tubular morphology of DRAGONITE, creating multi-dimensional pathways that improve the conductivity of electrolyte materials.

Professor Miller said, "The discovery of the use of DRAGONITE halloysite clay for the development of advanced Li battery technology, including its use in the design and fabrication of SPEs and special cathodes, has been an exciting opportunity for our research group. We are currently engaged in the optimization of DRAGONITE halloysite nanotube applications for various types of Li batteries with scale-up efforts in progress."

Applied Minerals continuously seeks to establish relationships with thought leaders from the scientific community that are capable of developing novel-based solutions utilizing the unique characteristics of our halloysite-based DRAGONITE products. We are truly excited and honored to be a partner in the USTAR/UTAG research program and look forward to continuing our support of Jan Miller's group in bringing this significant technological breakthrough to market.

Andre Zeitoun, President & CEO, Applied Minerals, Inc.

Market Opportunity

Electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, hybrids and battery electric vehicles, are increasingly becoming an important part of the worldwide automotive market. The need for enhanced battery technology is obvious. However, the solution is nontrivial. The new DRAGONITE halloysite-based nano-composite solid-state electrolyte is a transparent and thin membrane, and it will make possible the use of high-energy all solid-state lithium batteries over a broad range of temperatures. Furthermore, this membrane electrolyte will make lower weight, simplified, all solid-state cells that are very safe to use in vehicles and in a range of other applications.

It is necessary to note that it should be possible to use the new DRAGONITE halloysite nanotube solid polymer electrolyte together with a range of vital lithium battery chemistries to substitute the traditional cathodes and liquid electrolytes commonly used in such batteries. This new DRAGONITE halloysite-based electrolyte will not only improve the current battery technologies, but it will also allow new battery technologies and applications which are not yet feasible (e.g., lithium-sulfur batteries). As already stated, using a solid polymer electrolyte in place of traditional gel or liquid electrolyte will considerably enhance the safety aspects of Li batteries. It will also improve energy density and reduce the cost and complexity of manufacturing.

This new technology is expected to have a significant impact on portable electronic devices, solar panel systems and electric vehicles markets as improved safety and increased energy storage capacity are crucial to the commercial growth of each. Entities associated with the research and development of this new technology have filed certain patents centered on the use of special cathode design and DRAGONITE halloysite clay within SPE.

Energy storage will be a key element of any initiative meant to improve the amount of renewable energy in Utah's energy mix. Based on the new DRAGONITE halloysite-based electrolyte technology, a safe and efficient large energy storage system could be developed in the long term. The State of Utah’s home energy storage market is estimated to reach $7 billion.

Several leading companies within the Li battery industry have a strong interest in the new technology. As part of the grant application to the State of Utah, Professor Miller and his research team estimated that the total market opportunity for DRAGONITE employed in the production of solid polymer electrolytes for solid-state Li batteries could possibly reach $100 million per annum.

Commercialization Plan

Several opportunities for commercialization are being explored including the licensing or sale of the technology to a third party and the creation of an independent venture to produce the DRAGONITE halloysite-based solid polymer electrolyte/electrode for the lithium battery industry.

The University of Utah’s Department of Technology & Venture Commercialization (TVC) has received interest from major electrolyte manufacturers, battery manufacturers and battery end-users to take part in the UTAG project with the aim to license the DRAGONITE halloysite-based SPE technology.

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