Interview with Altech Advanced Materials AG
Interview with battery pioneer Altech Advanced Materials: "We hit a nerve with potential partners and investors"
time to read: 9 minutes | The interview was conducted by Nico Popp on October 6th, 2022 in Heidelberg (DE).
Direktor | Altech Advanced Materials AG
Ziegelhäuser Landstraße 3, 69120 Heidelberg (DE)
Table of contents:
Research into pouch cell Li-ion batteries
news|financial: "Recently, you published two announcements relating to your research and development. The expansion of your lab in Australia where you plan to manufacture Li-ion pouch batteries in the future, how does that all fit into the big picture?"
"[...] Silumina Anodes® is a ceramic-coated graphite/silicon anode composite material that we plan to produce in Schwarze Pumpe, Saxony. Here, we aim to supply manufacturers of batteries for e-cars with an application-ready drop-in technology that is low-cost, high-performance and safe. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
Here the focus is on an effective and efficient market launch of our "Silumina Anodes®", a specially coated anode material for lithium-ion batteries for electromobility. To ensure the quality of our material, we have to test it in realistic batteries. In the laboratory, these are microcells, round cells and the Li-ion pouch cells most commonly used in Europe. For this reason, we have expanded our laboratory. The step plays an important role in the commercialization of our anode material in electromobility. Our business stands on three pillars: Firstly, we stand for high-purity aluminium oxide for industry. We are advancing this business in Malaysia. The second business is the application of aluminium oxide in the field of high-performance lithium-ion batteries, our Silumina Anodes®. Silumina Anodes® are a ceramic-coated graphite/silicon anode composite material that we plan to produce in Schwarze Pumpe, Saxony. Here, we aim to supply manufacturers of batteries for e-cars with an application-ready drop-in technology that is low-cost, high-performance and safe. In addition, batteries made from our material are less dependent on international supply chains. Today, more than 80% of anode material still comes from China. To test how we need to align our anode technology to make it work for different use cases, we have expanded our lab in Australia and are researching around real cell applications. While some suppliers prefer round cells, European automakers, in particular, are increasingly turning to pouch cells. For this reason, we are driving development forward in this area.
Analytical approach to market maturity
news|financial: "Have you learned any lessons from your activities that will help you in the future?"
We have been testing micro half cells successfully for over a year and can prove that this battery with our material shows stable results over 500 charging cycles. We have just started working on pouch cells. One specific problem we are already tackling concerns the ageing reaction of batteries inside pouch cells. As a rule, this reaction proceeds differently in pouch cells than in round cells. We therefore expect that the positive effects of using Silumina Anodes® will be even more pronounced here. All our work aims to eliminate sources of error in production and application and not only improve the result in the respective application but, first and foremost, keep it uniformly stable. We want to supply our customers with solutions that are immediately convincing and can be used directly in large quantities. We are now undertaking the necessary preliminary work. It has long been clear that the technology works in principle. Now it is down to the details. This is extremely important, especially for batteries, and is influenced by many factors.
New business field: solid-state batteries
news|financial: "Almost simultaneously with the news from Australia, you also announced a joint venture with the Fraunhofer Institute. This involves a Sodium Alumina Solid State battery that goes by the name CERENERGY®. What are the technical aspects of this, and what are the possible applications?"
"[...] From this "list of ingredients" alone, it can be deduced that the supply of basic materials will not play a major role in our new business field compared with cobalt, lithium and copper in the lithium-ion battery. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
That brings us to our new, third business area! Together with Fraunhofer IKTS, we want to bring battery technology that has already been developed to market. It involves flexible electricity storage systems that can be scaled to almost any capacity and that are inexpensive, durable and safe due to the materials used. Safety is essential for everyone, but even more so for industrial applications in the multi-digit megawatt range. The reason for this is quickly explained: this battery is not flammable. We work with a solid ceramic cylinder. Furthermore, common salt is used instead of lithium. From this "list of ingredients" alone, it can be deduced that the supply of basic materials will not play a major role in our new business field compared to cobalt, lithium and copper in the lithium-ion battery. The target group for our battery will initially be for industry. Overall, however, the future field of application is vast, as individual modules of 10 KWh each can be flexibly connected to storage systems, or individual modules can be used independently in private households.
Opportunities in the market
news|financial: "Why did you enter the market now?"
"[...] In addition, these energy storage systems can be used to meet peak loads in the grid or to stabilize the power grids in the short term. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
You have to seize opportunities when they arise. The market for energy storage is growing strongly and is gaining in importance, especially in light of current events. The background to this is the high demand for renewable energy, which can only be generated at certain times. This energy is needed again at other times. Energy storage systems are used to close this "gap". In addition, these energy storage systems can be used to meet peak loads in the grid or to stabilize the power grids in the short term. These are very important tasks for energy suppliers with high economic attractiveness. As a first step, we want to create a production capacity of 100 MWh per year at our site in Schwarze Pumpe and then quickly scale up production.
Road to production
news|financial: "It sounds like Altech Advanced Materials has added a promising new business area in CERENERGY. How far away are you from commercialization?"
As of now, we are setting the framework for industrial production. We are primarily addressing the technical issues and working on the automation processes together with various groups of experts from industry and the Fraunhofer Institute. In battery production, it is not uncommon for the proportion of rejects to be significant, even in commercial production. This is especially true for lithium-ion batteries. In our case, the starting conditions are better due to the lower complexity, but even such a process needs to be well planned. We hope that this process will be completed by mid-2023. Then we will have completed a detailed economic feasibility study ("DFS Definitive Feasibility Study") and know the key economic data of the plant, the possible margin and so on, and can start building the actual plant. We estimate another two years for this. If the financial resources are available in time, the plant could be in production around the turn of the year 2025/2026.
news|financial: "Which customers are you targeting?"
"[...] Energy suppliers and industrial park operators are also among the potential customers, as there is great interest here in self-sufficiency and grid stability. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
Every solar park and every wind farm has an interest in storing its energy because, in most cases, this has a positive effect on margins. Energy suppliers and industrial park operators are also among the potential customers, as there is great interest here in self-sufficiency and grid stability. Our goal is to work with strong partners and quickly scale the plant's capacity. The market for energy storage is extensive.
A question of capacity
news|financial: "How are you positioned to advance all projects?"
"[...] We have the expertise and capacity to advance our three business areas equally. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
We are already hiring qualified personnel at our Schwarze Pumpe site. The region is known for its industry. Many people who used to come from the region are now moving back to their old homeland. As an attractive employer in a promising field of business, we naturally benefit from this. In addition, we have partners from industry who support us with materials and starting products and thus also relieve us of work steps. Important suppliers come from Essen and Hoyerswerda, for example. Lastly, the Fraunhofer Institute is a strong joint venture partner around CERENERGY with great competence and many possibilities. We have the expertise and capacity to advance our three business areas equally.
Support from the public sector
news|financial: "You mentioned your location in Schwarze Pumpe. How does the cooperation with politics and administration work there?"
Extremely well! We feel well supported on our journey. We were also pleasantly surprised by the way in which we as a company were supported in the approval process. For a company like ours, it is important that the public sector is aware of the special situation of growth companies. If everyone involved pulls together and communication is open and focused, we will achieve our goals - for Altech Advanced Materials and the Schwarze Pumpe region.
Altech as a beneficiary of electrification
news|financial: "How would you summarize the Altech Group or Altech Advanced Materials?"
"[...] The current issue of supply chains plays almost no role for us, as we use primary products that are available in Germany and which also come from ESG-compliant sources. In addition, short supply chains are inexpensive and environmentally friendly. In this way, we strike a chord with potential partners and investors. [...]" Uwe Ahrens, Direktor, Altech Advanced Materials AG
We are an experienced team both in the field of these technologies and in connection with business development challenges and the construction of large-scale industrial plants. We are well positioned with our technology and well positioned in large growth markets. The current issue of supply chains plays almost no role for us, as we use primary products that are available in Germany and which also come from ESG-compliant sources. In addition, short supply chains are inexpensive and environmentally friendly. In this way, we strike a chord with potential partners and investors. We are constantly developing, which is underpinned by the latest company announcements. I am very confident that Altech Advanced Materials can play a major role in the field of energy storage systems and battery technology.
Facts and financing
news|financial: "You are addressing investors. What is the situation regarding capital requirements at Altech Advanced Materials?"
We have been in the market for a few years now and have been well supported by investors so far. In addition, we are fully financed for everything we plan to do in the coming months. That is an advantage, especially in the current phase. However, it must also be said that our further development depends on market conditions, and we must obtain the necessary capital or debt financing. Anyone who can convince engineers and decision-makers in general with facts and figures, as we can, has a significant advantage. Shareholders can be sure that we first deliver facts about our products and then tackle the financing of our production facilities. I am convinced that we are on a successful path and that the Altech Group's business development will continue to pick up speed.
news|financial: "Thank you very much for talking to us."