Today, while in the world for green energy headlines, I came across a topic in NEW Mail about the Imperium3NY (iM3NY) battery plant near Binghamton, New York starting commercial operations. I did a quick search CleanTechnica archives to see if we’d covered this topic before, and sure enough, we did a story on it — on October 7, 2017. While the company has some enticing new technology, these things take a long time to reach the production stage. The factory was due to start in autumn 2019.
As it is, the factory has a capacity of just 1 GWh per year, but that’s not the big news here. What is important is that the company has contracts with 230 suppliers, none of which are located in China. Not only do the Imperium3 batteries use a new chemistry that makes the batteries cheaper to produce, but most of the necessary battery materials come from domestic sources.
The secret sauce
What exactly the chemistry of the Imperium3 battery is unknown. What is known is that it contains no cobalt and no nickel. However, performance specifications are hard to come by. Perhaps the most important piece of information is that the research was led by M. Stanley Whittingham, sometimes known as the “father of the lithium-ion battery.” In 2019, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino for their work on lithium-ion technology.
Whittingham is a professor at Binghamton University, and his team has been working closely with researchers in Australia to bring their new lithium-ion batteries to life. Australian businessman David Collard is the managing director of Scale Facilitation, a company whose aim is to find international customers for Australian resources. In an interview with New York Posthe said, “China controls 80% of the world’s lithium-ion battery production. In Australia, 60% of the world’s lithium comes from one mine, and that mine is 51% controlled by China.”
The Chinese-owned mine then sells the lithium to a processing plant in Australia, which is also owned by China, before it is then shipped to China, according to Collard. “It’s a very strategic industry where the West and Australia need to play a more active role. Putting an unhealthy reliance on any one industry or sector or one person or one company just sets you up for potential risks down the road.”
Collard was instrumental in getting the New York-based experts to collaborate with researchers and entrepreneurs in Australia so that his country can one day be self-sufficient in the production of lithium-ion batteries. “It’s the cleanest of all technologies,” Collard said mail. “And that’s largely because of the chemistry.”
As a result of his efforts, Recharge Industries plans to build a sister facility in Victoria, Australia, which will produce 5 GWh of batteries each year. It is expected to come online in 2026. Hopefully Australia will have an EV manufacturing industry by then.
Binghamton Battery Factory
The new plant in Endicott, NY — just outside of Binghamton — may be starting small, but it expects to employ up to 5,500 people after it ramps up to full production. It will be the first US-owned lithium-ion battery factory to primarily use North American sources for its battery materials. The battery cells will be used to power electric cars and trucks, grid energy storage and sensitive projects in the defense industry. The company says prismatic battery cells will be available this year, with pouch cells and cylindrical cells in 2170, 3270 and 4680 formats available from 2024.
The so-called Charge CCCV (or C4V) lithium-ion battery “uses fewer metals and less toxic materials than comparable lithium-cell batteries,” which could then lead to “lower global warming, acidification, smog and energy consumption,” according to an independent agency cited in a New York state report.
Although the plant has been operating for 5 years, it will be the recipient of the economic incentives contained in the new Inflation Reduction Act, designed to promote the domestic production of batteries for electric vehicles in the United States. 1 GWh of capacity is unlikely to make a dent in the amount of batteries needed to power the electric revolution in the US, but it’s a start. The question now is how much the iM3NY batteries will cost and how their performance — charge and discharge speeds, life expectancy and resistance to thermal runaway — stacks up against traditional lithium-ion batteries.
The road to the future consists of many baby steps. Imperium3NY has taken one of these steps. It will be interesting to see where this leads. We’ll be monitoring this company’s progress, and when we know more, you’ll know more.
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