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Low Cost Domestic Single Crystal High Nickel NMC Cathode from Microwave Plasma Processing

Award Information
Agency: Department of Defense
Branch: Defense Logistics Agency
Contract: SP4701-21-P-0060
Agency Tracking Number: L203-004-0037
Amount: $148,812.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: DLA203-004
Solicitation Number: 20.3
Solicitation Year: 2020
Award Year: 2021
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2021-03-28
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2021-09-27
Small Business Information
25 Commerce Way Suite 1
North Andover, MA 01845-1111
United States
DUNS: 080991660
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 Richard Holman
 (978) 258-1645
Business Contact
 Judy Lee
Phone: (617) 416-3664
Research Institution

The nickel content of oxide-based lithium-ion cathodes has trended steadily upward to enable higher energy density in both portable power and automotive applications. However, stability and reactivity issues have slowed the adoption of NMC 811 in the market. This is because high Ni cathode materials suffer from multiple failure modes caused by the high Ni content itself: 1) bulk destabilization of the structure in the charged state where oxygen is oxidized and lost, leaving Ni2+ which migrates from the transition layer into the lithium layer; 2) a change in nickel oxidation state  at the grain boundaries where the ordered, layered structure converts to spinel and then NiO, increasing impedance and promoting intragranular cracking; and 3) electrolyte instability at the surface, where Ni4+ and Ni2+ oxides serve as catalytic surfaces causing gassing and other decomposition pathways for the electrolyte solvent.    Single-crystal cathode materials have demonstrated benefits in cycle life, reactivity, and safety  through mechanisms that address the failure modes of high-nickel materials. Namely, single crystal materials have no intraparticle grain boundaries vulnerable to failure mode 2. Also, single crystal cathode grain surfaces have lower surface area and are relatively defect free compared to their polycrystalline counterparts, mitigating failure mode 3.  Thus, single crystal materials can enable 811 and higher nickel contents, because both modes 2 and 3 are reduced or eliminated.  Unfortunately, the same factors causing performance challenges in high Ni materials also make the production of single crystal materials challenging and expensive, requiring multiple additional process steps when made by conventional methods.   6K’s patented UniMelt® microwave plasma materials production technology represents a solution to these challenges.  The UniMelt® process is high throughput, scalable, sustainable, and offers a significant cost advantage over the conventional coprecipitation method, particularly for single crystal materials. 6K has performed early proof of concept work showing that single crystal high Ni NMC material can be produced using UniMelt®.  In phase 1 of this program, we propose to complete the feasibility demonstration, achieving full electrochemical performance and demonstrating single crystal NMC with Ni contents up to 0.9, laying the groundwork for a low cost domestic supply of advanced oxide cathode materials.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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