Green Graphite Technologies Inc., a Montreal-based startup piloting technologies to create a cleaner graphite supply for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, has received $2.1 million in seed funding from BDC Capital's Climate Tech Fund.
Co-founded in August 2021 by president and CEO Gillian Holcroft and CTO Kevin Watson, Green Graphite is the first official spinout of Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc.
Its two technology lines seek to address the supply of graphite, a metal used intensively in EV batteries. Most graphite today is sourced from China, where it is subject to a hazardous process using corrosive hydrofluoric acid.
Green Graphite hopes to meet rising demand for graphite with sustainable extraction from raw materials and via recycling through its GraphPure and GraphRenew processes, respectively.
“We’ve come up with a patent-pending technology to cost-effectively transform both mined, naturally flake(d) graphite as well as recycled graphite from lithium-ion batteries and off-spec production to transform it back into lithium-ion battery-grade graphite,” Holcroft said in an interview with SustainableBiz.
Purifying, recycling graphite for batteries
Though Holcroft declined to disclose precise details about the two patent-pending technologies, she did provide a high-level summary.
GraphPure enables cost-effective, high-purity graphite production from natural flake graphite. The natural flake graphite is broken down and shaped into spheres, then subject to a polishing step which allows for reaching purities of 99.99 per cent. It is then coated in carbon, making it ready for use.
On the recycling side, GraphRenew extracts purified, spent graphite from expired lithium-ion batteries. In most of these types of batteries the anode is comprised mainly of graphite, Holcroft said.
“It should actually be called a lithium-graphite battery,” she joked, saying graphite is the “forgotten piece” of a battery.
Typically, when a lithium-ion battery goes to a recycler, the focus is on recuperating cathode metals: lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese. Holcroft pointed out to battery recyclers the graphite in the battery could also be reused, rather than being disposed of.
GraphRenew separates the graphite from the battery and subjects it to operations mimicking GraphPure.
By purifying the batteries in North America using a safer, more environmentally-friendly process than in China, it enables urban mining and can bring graphite units into the supply chain to diminish the harm on natural resources, Holcroft said.
The intent is not to compete with lithium-ion battery recyclers seeking cathode metals, she stressed.
Green Graphite’s internal benchmark numbers found GraphPure's operating and capital costs will be five times lower than using hydrofluoric-based methods in North America. It does not create effluent or solid waste and runs on electricity, not fossil fuels. As reagents in the process are regenerated, they do not have to be trucked in repeatedly, reducing supply chain emissions.
The company would serve as a technology provider and operator that purchases graphite and processes it to sell to battery cell manufacturers, or charge a fee to companies for processing and/or recycling their raw materials. Holcroft believes Green Graphite is best placed to also consider licensing opportunities.
Green Graphite’s plan for the funding
BDC provided a $2.1 million seed round to Green Graphite in conjunction with the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance and an unnamed private investor.
Holcroft said Green Graphite raised over $3 million before the BDC pre-seed round from government sources and its private partners like Rain Carbon.
The BDC funding will support the commercialization of GraphRenew and GraphPure.
Currently, Green Graphite is at the mini-pilot stage for GraphPure and GraphRenew, with each mini-pilot processing 10 kilogram batches of graphite.
Green Graphite is applying for a government grant and has received letters of support from eight lithium-ion battery recyclers around the world to help build a pre-commercial GraphRenew facility in Kingston to output 20 kilograms of graphite per hour. Samples from the mini-pilot would be sent to battery cell manufacturers.
If approved, Green Graphite hopes to start the pre-commercial project in April 2024. Holcroft said that capacity would make it the largest of its kind in the world. Green Graphite would allocate $1.1 million from the BDC funding for the GraphRenew pre-commercial plant, with an estimated project cost of $7.2 million.
The GraphPure pilot facility is ongoing, supported by Sustainable Development Technology Canada. The remaining BDC funds will go to complete this pilot, enable Green Graphite to attend more networking conferences and expand the team.
Holcroft and Watson are hoping to conclude their engineering careers making safe, sustainable solutions that can be rolled out globally.
“As a proud Canadian, we’re looking at other established Canadian companies in how we can look at larger companies that want to shepherd us to build these commercial plants most quickly . . . We want to be a successful company that everyone can point to as a great example of Canadian innovation.”
Holcroft said she hopes to move forward with a Series A funding round in next 12 to 15 months.