Urbix: The graphite processing firm changing the EV battery supply chain

US-based materials company Urbix has reached an advanced stage of pilot line production for graphite processing for electric vehicles.

Urbix is one of the only companies processing graphite outside of China. It says its proprietary process produces high-quality CSPG (coated spherical purified graphite) for electric vehicles at a fraction of the cost, energy, time and space compared to its competitors.

The process completely removes the use of hydrofluoric acid and standard thermal treatments. Urbix’s modular facilities can be located within a small footprint anywhere in the world and in response to demand; helping automakers to remain competitive in the race for electrification.

With the company now claiming to be at “advanced stages of pilot line production,” Urbix says it is now on track for full scale production in the US by 2024 and expansion to additional global locations.

Nico Cuevas, CEO and Co-founder of Urbix, said: “The Energy Transition is a reality, it is our global responsibility to be true to the essence of this transition, and process the minerals that will make this happen in an ESG compliant fashion. In addition, the strained critical battery material supply chains, such as graphite heavily concentrated in China pose a very palpable threat that could potentially delay this energy transition. OEMs and battery makers need to secure and diversify their supply chains now to ensure sustainability and stability. At Urbix we have pioneered a truly game-changing technology, providing automakers with a local source of high-quality battery-grade graphite that can be tailored to their specific performance requirements.”

“In pioneering this localised graphite processing we’ve been able to rethink the entire method. The result is a “drop in” replacement product that outperforms its competitors on cost and uses just a fraction of the energy while eliminating the use of hydrofluoric acid. This modular approach can fit in existing warehouses with no special environmental permits, meaning we can bring this solution anywhere in the world and close to end use.

“The global automotive industry has been brought to its knees by the chip crisis. At Urbix, we hope that we can avoid similar challenges for batteries by creating a truly resilient anode solution that helps accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.”

By 2030, Urbix says graphite demand is expected to increase over 5-6 fold to meet growing EV demand. In response to this, the company is in advanced stages of pilot line production and constructing its first flagship modular commercial line capable of producing 1,000 tonnes per year. It will be expanding capacity to 32,000 tonnes annually by 2024 and aims to provide graphite for anodes in 30% of the US’s and Europe’s electric vehicles by 2030. Urbix is currently looking to expand to other locations in the US and in Europe.

Graphite processing, the process of turning raw flake graphite into EV battery grade (CSPG) graphite, is typically performed using highly polluting and caustic processes. Synthetic graphite is made from petroleum coke – a residual product from refining petroleum, and requires a highly energy intensive process with temperatures exceeding 3,000℃. The conventional method used predominantly in China to process natural graphite sourced from mines, uses a low yield (~30%) process that involves chemical purification using hazardous acids (such as Hydrofluoric) that, if not contained properly, can pose significant environmental dangers.

Urbix claims to have developed a completely unique approach that uses just 10% of the energy and 6% of the acid, in 7% of the time compared to existing processes. Critically, it eliminates the use of hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid, and records yields of over 70%, more than twice the yield of the industry standard. Urbix’s method benefits from a highly resilient supply chain as it is compatible with raw graphite from anywhere in the world meaning it is not dependent on a single source of graphite and does not need to source from China.

Beyond a more sustainable processing technique, Urbix says it has pioneered a way to combine natural and synthetic graphite within the core of a CSPG particle to achieve a highly consistent product that can be tuned to meet the specific performance attributes and cell chemistries of each OEM or include additives such as Silicon. This, according to Urbix, has substantial downstream benefits, contributing to EV batteries that are more efficient, possess a longer life cycle and achieve a greater energy density at a lower cost.