TDK Ventures invests in Novalith clean lithium-extraction technology

TDK Corporation announced today that subsidiary TDK Ventures Inc. has invested in lithium-extraction startup Novalith. Novalith’s technology solutions capture and leverage carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to isolate and extract higher quality – battery grade – lithium from resource deposits, with no harmful by-products. Their process uses less water, smaller infrastructure, and is a lower cost than current industry standards.

Projected demand for battery-grade lithium was expected to outpace supply by 2023, with more than a 9x increase by 20301 driven by a global trend towards electrification. In response, the interest in lithium production innovations is meteoric, as the industry looks to maintain a viable battery supply chain. However, current production methods struggle in terms of time, cost, and environmental impact. Standard practices include either:

  • Traditional ore mining – requiring the age-old arduous process of finding lithium-containing ore deposits, followed by monumental investments in infrastructure and time to remove the resources from the ground, separate from less-desirable materials, and distribute
  • Brine extraction – involving massive volumes of water and chemicals to recover lithium dissolved in pooled liquid deposits underground or in tailing ponds, more efficiently than traditional evaporative separation processes

Both approaches are incredibly slow and filled with upfront infrastructure costs. As an additional detriment, both processes have carbon-heavy output from machinery costs in addition to other toxic products (i.e., chemicals used in brine solution), which offset the environmental responsibility that lithium-ion batteries are intended to foster in the first place.

Novalith is working to change the game entirely, bringing a solution to the problems of time, money, and sustainability. Novalith is commercializing their patented LiCAL™ technology for lithium extraction and refining from lithium ores such as spodumene and clays. The technology uses CO2 instead of strong acids or bases to extract and directly convert the ore to battery grade lithium.  With this novel process, Novalith has removed significant costs from the extraction process, and can therefore pass on that savings to the downstream supply chain. Novalith’s process not only contributes to a more economical bottom line for all lithium battery-powered products, but it also ensures that both the application and the material-sourcing aspects of electrified society are environmentally friendly. Solving battery production’s “dirty” materials supply chain has been a hotly contested topic and is held as a primary criticism of the electrification movement overall.

To pave the way for a truly sustainable future in lithium-ion batteries and their uses, we have to decarbonize production,” said Steven Vassiloudis, Novalith CEO. “We want to take this one step further and turn carbon waste into carbon value. We’re using CO2 and sequestering it as part of our process. Doing so, we can minimize across the board – less infrastructure, fewer chemicals, no toxic by-production, less water, and less cost.”

Novalith is addressing one of the most important technical challenges confronting, not just lithium, but all progress within the energy and environmental transformation movements,” commented Nicolas Sauvage, President of TDK Ventures. “Without the decarbonization of material extraction, in particular lithium, the life cycle of lithium batteries cannot be truly sustainable. Novalith has not only provided a solution to extract lithium faster to provide access to EV OEMs, but also doing it by converting CO2 into a battery-grade product, which drastically reduces the overall CO2 footprint of lithium production. The TDK Ventures team is proud to partner with such a vision, and we look forward to doing all we can to accelerate their technology to market.

TDK Ventures invests globally in early-stage startups that leverage fundamental materials science to unlock an attractive and sustainable future for the world. TDK Ventures’ goal is to help every portfolio company to achieve its full potential for positive world impact. Signaling a strong trend for return on investment in materials science startups since 2019, four companies TDK Ventures invested in have gone public or been acquired.

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