Swedish battery queen explains why a little known material could knock lithium off its pedestal once EV-revolution hits

Veckans Affärer

Jill Bederoff Veckans Affärer

Christina Lampe-Önnerud.
Magnus Laupa/TT

“Lithium is a bit overrated. It’s simply not sensible that a single component in battery production is getting so much media coverage. What we should talk about instead is the recycling of lithium, which is something that needs to improve,” says Christina Lampe-Önnerud, the founder of Cadenza Innovation. Her company has developed a “new way to package energy” and hence increase the theoretical range of electric vehicles like Tesla’s with up to 70 percent.

As one of Sweden’s most successful entrepreneurs – also the founder of Boston Power – Lampe-Önnerud is sometimes called “The Queen of Batteries.” Under her lead, Cadenza’s five-year long development stint has culminated in partnerships with many international heavyweights – and a major bet on the next wave in battery technology.

Lampe-Önnerud points out to Veckans Affärer that apart from lithium, the future of batteries depends on another (semi)metal that has so far gotten scant attention: graphite.  Graphite consists of extremely purified coal. The coal-based metal functions as an anode – the negatively charged side of the battery. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has estimated that the explosive growth in electric vehicles will translate into booming graphite demand; from 13 000 tonnes (for ready-made anodes) in 2015, up to 852 000 tonnes by 2030.

The production of graphite is extremely capital- and resource intensive. Up to 70 percent of all the raw material becomes waste, which also makes recycling and alternative applications key. “It’s extremely important that we come up with a stable material. The more predictable the material, the less the need for security around it.” Cadenza Innovation is positioning itself well ahead of the coming shift. The company just entered an R&D partnership together with Syrah Resources, the owner of the largest single deposit of graphite outside China, which currently has a global monopoly on graphite. Using the deposits from Syrah’s mining complex in Mozambique – set to become the biggest graphite production center in the world able to supply half a billion EV’s – the two companies will develop graphite anode technology for lithium-ion batteries.

The next level: Graphene
Lampe-Önnerud is also giving a shoutout to graphene, the super thin, ultra-strong coal-based material; the discoveries around which earned two Russian-born physicists a Nobel Prize in 2010. In terms of battery applications, graphene has better conductivity than graphite and enables faster charging of batteries. However, the production process is even more complex.

All considered, it’s safe to say the battery industry is looking at a groundbreaking decade. But in equal measure, there are also more challenges than ever. “There are many inventions and ideas right now. But in fact most underestimate the time to market, many times up to 20 years. Seeing the explosive growth that exists today, we who work in the industry must make sure that things happen faster than that,” Lampe-Önnerud quips to VA.

This article was originally published in Veckans Affärer. Read it in Swedish here. Follow Veckans Affärer on Facebook and Twitter.

Read More: Her ’energy Lego brick’ that would increase Tesla range by 70% is ready to go – Cadenza is in discussions with Elon Musk and other industry giants