The surge in graphite demand has put pressure on Europe, which imports almost 98% of the graphite it uses. The valuable mineral for electric vehicle (EV) batteries is now considered a critical raw material. Graphite production comes with a huge environmental and supply chain risk which is being challenged by an Estonian company UP Catalyst. The novel technology developed by young scientists comes to fill in the gap by recycling CO2 at an industrial site in order to turn it into sustainable graphite.
So far, CO2 is viewed only as a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. UP Catalyst has managed to reverse its impact and utilize it for the production of truly sustainable battery anodes. The production can take place anywhere in the world due to the use of CO2 as a feedstock, thus also enabling to set up production close to battery manufacturers.
“Europe at the present moment is vulnerable to supply chain disruptions”, said Dr. Gary Urb, UP Catalyst’s CEO. “We want to establish a competitive and secure EU battery value chain with respect to the environment”, he continued.
China is the leading graphite producer, dominating the entire supply chain for lithium-ion batteries. Considering that the number of EVs is estimated to increase to 145 million by 2030, 10 million tons of graphite is required to cover the soaring fleet. According to the European Carbon and Graphite Association (ECGA), there are only two small mines in the EU – located in Austria and in Germany but the mined grades are not suitable for energy storage applications.
Graphite production not only takes place too far away but also poses a unique environmental challenge. Whether it is natural or fossil fuel-derived synthetic graphite, the estimated carbon footprint it accounts for is 5.3 kg CO2eq/kg and 13.8 kg CO2eq/kg respectively. Inspired by a circular model of reusing industrial waste, UP Catalyst produces carbon-negative graphite, consuming 3.7 tons of CO2 per ton of material produced.
Samsung SDI, LG Chem, and Panasonic — the three largest manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries are all looking for sustainable alternatives thus putting a strain on Chinese imported graphite. “Every battery manufacturer is challenged by insufficient raw materials. It’s encouraging to see green and local initiatives like UP Catalyst’s, which could help to ensure a much more sustainable supply chain while clogging a major supply gap. “, said Dr. Stefan Permien, CEO of renowned battery manufacturer, UniverCell Holding GmbH.
The long-term vision includes every step of the process being done locally and on-site from sourcing the raw materials to actual battery production, hence eliminating transportation costs and emissions.
“We need to create a supply chain that fulfills environmental, ethical, and social standards, only then our ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent is achievable”, mentioned Bernd Schäfer, CEO of EIT RawMaterials.