Interview with Altech Advanced Materials AG
Interview Altech Advanced Materials: "We make batteries in e-cars more powerful and more durable".
time to read: 8 minutes | The interview was conducted by Nico Popp on January 27th, 2022 in Heidelberg (DE).
Director | Altech Advanced Materials AG
Ziegelhäuser Landstraße 3, 69120 Heidelberg (DE)
Table of contents:
The team behind Altech Advanced Materials
news|financial: "Altech wants to use new technology to make batteries for e-cars cheaper, longer-lasting and safer. What does the team behind Altech bring to the table to achieve these goals?"
"[...] We know exactly what we are doing and are implementing what we consider to be a proven technology in an industrially applicable and scalable way. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
We have experience with high-purity lithium and have previously produced high-purity aluminum oxide, the ceramic base material. We can also use this technology and process experience in the production and application of alumina for lithium-ion batteries. It is precisely here that we bridge the gap to battery technology, namely the production of relevant ceramic base materials used in the lithium-ion battery, both in the cathode, the separator and the anode. We have successfully developed a process to coat anode material very thinly with aluminum oxide, i.e. ceramics, and expect this to improve safety and increase battery performance and lifespan. So it is by no means the case that we are breaking new technological ground with Altech. We know exactly what we are doing and are implementing what we consider to be a proven technology in an industrially applicable and scalable way. We have been testing the application of anode material coated with aluminum oxide in lithium-ion batteries internally for a year now. We are seeing exactly the promising results that we expected in advance.
Why Altech ceramics?
news|financial: "Why does it make sense to use Altech alumina in the battery?"
Battery materials are characterized by long and complex supply chains and are not always sourced in an environmentally friendly or responsible manner. They are also simply difficult to find in the market and susceptible to supply chain disruptions. Moreover, the security of supply is far from assured for the expected needs of the European automotive industry. This security must be achieved with local resources and technologies. More crucially, however, our technology reduces the complexity of supply chains, reduces environmental damage and leads to significantly better results. An e-car battery with our technology is much more efficient in terms of its weight or volume.
This is what the process is all about
news|financial: "You rely on an aluminum oxide coating to protect the anodes. How does that work exactly, and how do you implement the process?"
We focus on the anode. According to today's standard, lithium-ion batteries already lose part of their capacity during the first charging cycle. Specifically, we are talking about around 15%. The cause is the formation of a boundary layer in which the lithium is bound. We can reproduce this boundary layer with the help of a ceramic coating so that the effect, typical of lithium-ion batteries, is eliminated and the capacity that would otherwise be lost is retained.
The second decisive advantage of our technology is that we can enrich the anode with silicon using the ceramic coating mentioned above. Typically, graphite is used here, which offers only about one-tenth of the charging capacity at this point compared to silicon.
More power on the road
news|financial: "Your technology promises a performance increase of more than 15% and a service life up to 30% longer. Initial tests are promising, according to your statements. What does the roadmap look like? When do you plan to aggressively go after customers?"
"[...] If we succeed in increasing the proportion of silicon on the anode, performance increases of 50 or 100% are also possible. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
Investors need to know that the development of our technology is far from over. If we succeed in increasing the proportion of silicon on the anode, performance increases of 50 or 100% are also possible. But in the end, it won't be a matter of a battery in an e-car having a range of well over 1,000 km. In the end, it will be about achieving practicable ranges with batteries that are lighter, smaller and therefore much cheaper. But to return to your question about the roadmap: The development cycle of modern batteries is still more a matter of years. However, our material represents a drop-in technology that could be deployed much sooner. At Altech, we do not work and research in isolation from the outside world. We are already in communication with representatives of the battery and automotive industries and know what we need to do to further advance what is already a promising technology. It is important to remember that the road to market maturity also involves practical considerations, such as the trade-offs between maximum performance and weight that have already been alluded to. We also talk regularly with manufacturers of basic materials for battery production. We have, for example, a cooperation and supply agreement with SGL Carbon and the Spanish silicon manufacturer Ferroglobe.
Planned plant in Saxony
news|financial: "You are planning to build a plant in Schwarze Pumpe, Saxony. What exactly do you want to manufacture there?"
"[...] The first step for us is to set up a pilot plant and produce coated anode material there using our process. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
We have concrete plans for the plant in Saxony, which is located in the middle of a region where numerous companies from the battery industry are starting projects and car manufacturers are also based in the broader area. The first step for us is to set up a pilot plant and produce coated anode material there using our process. We can then use the products from this pilot plant to convince potential customers. We will announce details of the development of the plant in Schwarze Pumpe in the coming weeks.
Flexibility as a gamechanger
news|financial: "You have indicated between the lines that it is important for you to respond flexibly to customers' requirements. How well is that possible with your technology? Do you have any advantages over the competition?"
"[...] I believe that the purity of our raw materials and the control options in the manufacturing process gives us significant advantages over the competition. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
Lithium-ion battery technology is still constantly evolving today. Each manufacturer has its own approach in detail. That sometimes makes cooperation with several partners difficult or necessitates adjustments. However, we have a great advantage in that we are able to change many properties and are particularly flexible. I cannot go into the technical details because they involve Altech's recipe for success, but in abstract terms, I believe that the purity of our raw materials and the control options in the manufacturing process gives us significant advantages over the competition. But the real gamechanger is that with Altech, we can successfully industrialize the application of silicon in the anode.
Differentiation as a key to success
news|financial: "The amateurish assumption now might be that Altech, with its greater flexibility, can serve more customers than the competition, simply because customizations are less complicated..."
Yes, that would be one possibility. The other possibility is that we have only one or two partners and provide those partners with the great performance increase and flexibility of our technology, offering a unique selling proposition. Lithium-ion batteries have a variety of uses, and it is worthwhile to use this technology specifically. Even in e-cars, there are differences in different model series. We can see from the example of Varta that differentiation pays off. The Company has many internationally renowned customers, such as Samsung and Apple, because it is flexible and can manufacture high-quality products at a low cost.
news|financial: "You are a supplier to the battery industry. Isn't there likely to be a lot of price pressure in this area in the long term? How are you positioned for this?"
"[...] We look forward to the future and are convinced that we already have everything we need to successfully master the challenges of the coming years: We want to become the world market leader! [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
We expect this price pressure. We even welcome it to a certain extent - after all, electromobility is supposed to become cheaper. We assume that e-cars will be better and more affordable than any fossil fuel vehicle. Thanks to our simple processes and the targeted application of our technology, we already have the potential to report the lowest costs. We can also respond to all developments in the industry. This is a good prerequisite for remaining competitive in the long term. We look forward to the future and are convinced that we already have everything we need to successfully master the challenges of the coming years: We want to become the world market leader!
news|financial: "You are not only focusing on the German e-car market but are also active internationally in Malaysia, among other places. What role does business there play for you?"
Our plant in Malaysia is currently under construction and will produce high-purity alumina (99.99%), i.e. the raw material for the planned plant in Germany. However, such high-purity alumina can be used in many areas, which is why the plant in Malaysia can be operated autonomously. Typical applications include semiconductors, medical technology and sapphire glass. For the first phase of pilot production in Germany, we purchase all raw materials from our partners and then refine them before application. Doing so is more practical and allows us to start as early as possible.
Milestones for 2022
news|financial: "In 2022, what will be important for Altech Advanced Materials? What milestones are coming up?"
"[...] We are confident that our technology is extremely promising and are doing everything we can to back up this conviction with the first facts as early as 2022. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Director, Altech Advanced Materials AG
The key milestone will be to get technical and commercial confirmation that our innovative high-performance anode material is marketable. Our internal tests indicate that this is the case. The pilot plant will ensure that interested parties can see Altech for themselves. Therefore, I can imagine that even the plans for the plant can point the way to the market. In the end, however, we want to convince less with announcements than with facts. We are confident that our technology is extremely promising and are doing everything we can to back up this conviction with the first facts as early as 2022.
news|financial: "Thank you very much for talking to us."