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The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) has launched its flagship project — the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant —in Western Australia.

Backed by 19 industry, research and Government participants, the launch represents a major step in Australia’s journey to expand its presence throughout the global battery value chain.

The first of its kind in Australia, the plant will establish the technology and capabilities for Australia to design and build cathode precursor manufacturing facilities on a commercial and industrial scale.

Cathode precursors are precisely engineered materials, the highest cost component of a cell, and a crucial element of the battery value chain. The FBICRC’s report — Future Charge — Building Australia’s Battery Industries — identified establishing an active materials manufacturing capability as an immediate priority for Australia to move up the global value chain, which could deliver $1 billion to the economy and support 4,800 jobs by 2030.

The plant capitalises on Australia’s strong position in mining and its emerging battery metal refining industry.

Australia is building from its mining strength to develop diversified battery industries which generate greater value. The facility will link with other FBICRC flagship projects across Australia, including the National Battery Testing Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, battery materials research at the University of Technology Sydney, electrolyte research at Deakin University and battery anode research at the University of Melbourne.

FBICRC chief executive officer Shannon O’Rourke the launch of the pkant was the culmination of several years of hard work, collaboration and integration by industry-leading partners and academic institutions, to progress the current and future needs of industry.

“The incoming government has committed to a National Battery Strategy which will help to seize local battery manufacturing opportunities. The plant will be a key enabler to build an Australian manufacturing capability,” she said.

The global battery market is expected to grow up to 10 times by 2030 and 40-fold by 2050. In a net-zero world, between now and 2050 more than $23 trillion will be spent on batteries. Australia is well positioned to capture more of this value given we are the only country with leading resources of all raw materials required to make high performance batteries – nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite and lithium.

Cathode precursor materials are further processed to create cathodes in the humble battery cell.  The performance, durability, safety, and operating envelope of a cell are impacted by the properties of precursor materials.  Composition, shape, and surface properties must be controlled closely to ensure a cell performs reliably over many years.

Over 18-months, the plant will run a series of test campaigns through four fully integrated and automated P-CAM production units, provided by BASF. The four units will enable the plant to run different compositions and ratios of chemistries simultaneously, or to run the same chemistries under four different conditions, changing variables such as temperature, pH or stirring rate.

Produced P-CAM is then lithiated, calcined and electrochemically tested at the FBICRC-funded Electrochemical Testing Facility at the Queensland University of Technology.

BHP Nickel West has also provided equipment for the precursor facility, repurposed from its nickel sulphate pilot plant.

Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said the plant was another exciting step for BHP as a major supplier of nickel, a commodity highly sought after by car and battery manufactures across the globe.

Participants included BASF Australia Limited, BHP Nickel West, Queensland University of Technology , Curtin University, CSIRO, Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, University of Technology Sydney, Ardea Resources, IGO Ltd and Blackstone Minerals.