Interview: Tekna CEO Luc Dionne’s $1bn battery plan

BY BEN COOK:

  • Tekna and LG Chem have linked up to improve lithium-ion batteries
  • Better lithium-ion batteries could mean more storage on national grids
  • Tekna CEO claims to have ‘perfected’ the necessary technology

How can more energy storage capacity be connected to national power grids?

Tekna Plasma Systems CEO Luc Dionne has a plan.

His company recently signed a multi-year joint development agreement with LG Chem aimed at improving the storage capacity and cycle stability of lithium-ion batteries while generating $1bn of income in the process.

Tekna and LG say that, by improving batteries’ performance, their adoption will be accelerated, particularly for energy storage connected to power grids.

So confident are the two firms in the effectiveness of their technology that in an exclusive interview with Energy Storage Report, Tekna CEO Luc Dionne says: “We expect to grow $1 billion in revenue from energy storage materials.”

Perfected technology

Both companies will contribute patented technology to the project. This will combine Tekna’s expertise in plasma tech and LG Chem’s extensive knowledge of advanced materials to develop new materials for batteries.

Dionne says the pair decided to team up because they have had a “common interest” in developing and industrialising lithium-ion batteries, and have worked together for a number of years.

“We have developed a lot of trust,” he says. Dionne declines to go into detail about how the partners will use their technology to improve lithium-Ion batteries for reasons of confidentiality, but claims that both companies have a “strong portfolio of intellectual property” to contribute.

Dionne’s assured air is due to what he sees as Tekna’s position as a pioneer in the area of advanced materials.

“Tekna is a leader in the field of advanced materials since the early 1990s when we developed and patented our inductively coupled plasma (ICP) torch along with an extensive portfolio of nano-size materials such as silicon, cobalt, nickel, copper and boron nitride nano tubes (BNNT),” he says.

“We have perfected this technology and designed it to produce among the world’s smallest cost competitive materials at industrial scale.”

Nano gets big

Dionne acknowledges that, for a number of years, advances in lithium-ion batteries have been relatively slow and the demand for nano-structured material was limited. A nano-structure is a structure of intermediate size between microscopic and molecular structures.

But the environment has now changed, according to Dionne, due to the increased uptake in electric vehicles and the “proliferation of mobile electronics [that] has caused the industry to accelerate the development of materials with the aim of increasing the performance of lithium-ion batteries”.

Tekna is now working with its customers to develop lithium-ion batteries that are smaller, lighter, and are expected to deliver up to 60% more power than those produced with traditional materials, says Dionne: “We have ongoing development efforts with a number of partners here in Canada and abroad.”

Dionne says nano-materials “open performance possibilities” that could not otherwise be achieved with traditional, larger-size, materials.

He says that the secret of the performance of nano-materials produced by Tekna lies in the fact that the company’s plasma technology allows it to produce industrial-scale volumes of such materials smaller than 100nm [nanometres] with “never seen before purity grades”.

Silicon secrets

Demand for silicon nano materials will soar in the coming years, predicts Dionne, who expects it to surpass 300,000 metric tonnes by 2030. Crucial to this dramatic growth will be the conversion of silane gases into nano silicon.

“Tekna has specifically developed a process using silane to generate industrial scale high purity silicon nano-materials,” he says. It is this process that Dionne anticipates will drive revenue to the $1bn mark.

While what Dionne describes as the electric vehicle “craze” will drive major growth in energy storage in the coming year, he also expects a significant increase in energy storage systems connected to sources of renewables.

“This will require power management solutions to optimise energy cost and manage risk in the distribution networks,” Dionne says. “Energy storage as a service could also emerge as a result of this trend as well as a solution to peak consumption surcharges – cutting-edge tier services in software development, machine learning, algorithms will also emerge”.

If Tekna and LG Chem’s plan comes to fruition, it could help put them at the forefront of the lithium-ion-powered energy storage revolution.

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