Bill Gates threw $ 10 million at a tiny startup with 7 employees to “remove the bottleneck” that threatens the explosion of electric cars

Tram Ho

The investment is significant for the booming electric vehicle market, analysts say. The startup’s founder aims to improve a specific part of the lithium supply chain, turning raw lithium into a raw material for batteries.

Lithium is used in electric vehicle batteries because it is the lightest metal and has the highest charge-to-weight ratio. This is very important when making batteries for vehicles. Over the past decade, electric vehicles have grown rapidly, surpassing 10 million vehicles globally, according to the International Energy Agency. As demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, so will demand for lithium.

According to Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a company that tracks the battery supply chain for electric vehicles, the demand and size of the electric vehicle battery market will grow by as much as 90% by 2030 compared to today. now. Demand is expected to increase by 354,000 tons of lithium carbonate by 2020 to 2.57 million tons by 2030.


Bill Gates ném 10 triệu USD vào startup tí hon với 7 nhân sự để "gỡ nút thắt cổ chai" đe dọa sự bùng nổ của xe điện - Ảnh 1.

This demand is unlikely to be met, not because of limited lithium availability, but because resources are limited to turn that lithium into a form that can be used in the battery industry, Miller says. Mangrove was born to remove that bottleneck.

Céline Büchel, chemicals, minerals and mining specialist at market research firm HIS Markit, explains: ” Competitive technology for creating battery-grade lithium compounds is in high demand . New products need to be created to meet the huge demand of mankind for battery-powered vehicles “.

The heart of the process

There are five segments of the lithium market, including mining and roughing, chemical processing, battery components manufacturing, battery assembly, and end-finishing. Batteries are destined for future cell phones, laptops, electric vehicles and more. Mangrove’s technology focuses on phase 2, chemical processing.

“We are at the heart of the process,” Mangrove CEO Saad Dara told CNBC. “We take raw lithium and refine it into a battery-grade product.”

This is Dara’s 2013 graduation project from the University of British Columbia, where he holds a master’s degree in chemical and biological engineering. In 2017, Dara and colleagues received funding from the Canadian federal government to pursue domestic desalination and chemical production. They also turned that technology into a company called Mangrove Water Technologies. Currently, it is still pursuing a desalination project in Canada.

In 2018, a Lithium producer from South America was interested in seeing if Mangrove’s team could process lithium chloride (a newly mined form of lithium) into lithium hydroxide (an electrolyte in batteries or batteries). ) or not. Closing that deal, Mangrove pushed the startup to pursue an electrochemical process of refining lithium in a way it claims is more energy-efficient than conventional processes.

Ideal numberThe problem you have with mining and processing lithium is that it’s pretty inefficient. With the current mining process, you can only get about 50% of the lithium from concentrated brine or hard rock. ” , said Ian Hayton, materials and chemistry analyst at consulting and research firm CleanTech.

Dara says their technology can raise that number to 90%. Dara also explains that raw materials are used in the industrial process, separate from the product during chemical treatment resulting in a higher quality product.

We try to keep lithium hydroxide or carbonate from interacting with other chemicals during the manufacturing process. If it doesn’t come in contact with other chemicals, the quality of the product will be higher ,” says Dara.

There’s a lot of promise behind Mangrove’s technology, and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures bets on them. ” Our investment in Mangrove stems from an analysis of the growth of electric vehicles, the growing demand for lithium, and potential cost and supply constraints ,” said Carmichael Roberts, co-leader Investment committee leader of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, said.

Bill Gates Fund believes that when Mangrove is able to successfully deploy its solution, it will reduce the cost of lithium hydroxide batteries by 40% as well as improve internal rates of return on manufacturing projects. producing and refining brine, allowing them to happen faster and at a lower cost.

While many scientists are excited about Mangrove’s technology, they also point to challenges, especially with large-scale deployment. On the other hand, if Mangrove overcomes this challenge, the startup will make a game changer.

At the present time, finding breakthroughs in the field of electric vehicle batteries is what many companies are pursuing. In addition, creating batteries with the lowest cost to the environment continues to make electric vehicles more “legitimate”, overcoming controversies related to pollution in the production of batteries for these vehicles.

In addition to increasing the efficiency of mining, there is also a focus on increasing the development of battery recycling technologies that help minimize its impact on the environment.

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Source : Genk