SK On, a leading electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturer, has signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with U.S. graphite processor Urbix Inc., a move that could help it establish a foothold in the U.S. anode material supply chain following the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Under the agreement, the two companies will work together to develop environmentally responsible, high-performance anode materials customized for SK On batteries. Upon the successful development of customized anode products under the JDA, SK On will consider sourcing Urbix’s anode materials for its U.S. battery manufacturing facilities.
Established in 2014, Urbix is an American materials producer that specializes in processing natural graphite for battery anodes with environmentally responsible solutions. Based in Mesa, Arizona, Urbix is completing construction and commissioning of its commercial scale demonstration plant with 1,000-ton/ yr capacity and it plans to expand its production capacity to 28,500 tons/yr by 2025.
Anode is one of the four main components for lithium-ion batteries along with cathode, electrolyte and separator. It determines the battery life, charging speed and energy density. Currently, graphite is the dominating anode material in commercial lithium-ion batteries.
The JDA opens a possibility of adding diversity when it comes to the sourcing of anode materials. According to last year’s International Energy Agency (IEA) report, China accounted for 85 percent of global production capacity for anodes.
Should the partnership with Urbix extend successfully, SK On can also pave the way for establishing an anode supply chain in North America, while positioning itself to take advantage of provisions within the IRA.
SK On has been steadily reinforcing its supply chain for key battery materials. For a stable supply of lithium, a key material for cathodes, SK On inked deals with Chile’s SQM and Australia’s Lake Resources and Global Lithium Resources last year.
For SK On, the partnership is also expected to beef up its competitiveness as a leading sustainable battery manufacturer, as Urbix processes graphite with innovative environmentally responsible methods. Urbix is renowned for recycling 70 percent chemicals without using hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen chloride in the refining process.
“This agreement is meaningful in increasing the possibility of securing eco-friendly and high-performance anode active materials for use in SK On’s U.S. plants,” said Sun Heeyoung, SK On Vice President in charge of advanced research. “SK On will continue to work to develop anode materials that can maximize battery performance.”
“Working with such a renowned battery manufacturer means that we can accelerate our production efforts, and more effectively address the supply of graphite,” said Nico Cuevas, CEO of Urbix. “By utilizing Urbix’s innovative technologies, we can shift more of the refinement and production of battery-grade graphite to the U.S., a mission we remain committed to.”