NORTHERN GRAPHITE CORPORATION (the "Company" or "Northern") announces that a major international engineering company has completed a scoping study with respect to the Company's proprietary coating process. Coating is one of the steps in upgrading graphite mine concentrate to spherical graphite ("SPG"), the anode material used in lithium ion batteries ("LiBs").
Capital costs are estimated at approximately US$3.2 million (including a 35% contingency) for a facility to coat 5,000 tonnes per year of SPG. Operating costs were estimated to be less than US$0.20/kg.
The manufacture of SPG involves three main steps, milling (to micronize and round the flakes), purification and coating. It typically takes three tonnes of flake graphite concentrate to produce one tonne of SPG due to losses in the process and this is a major cost. Micronization and rounding are relatively straightforward and can be done with readily available equipment. The Company is in the process of completing capital and operating cost estimates for a plant that will have the capacity to mill 10,000 tonnes of concentrate per year and produce 5,000 tonnes of SPG. This will represent approximately half of the proposed production from the Bissett Creek deposit. It will be integrated with results from the coating and previously announced purification studies (see February 8, 2016 announcement), to provide a complete cost competitive, environmentally sustainable alternative to the methods employed in China.
Almost all natural graphite based SPG is produced in China, largely because of the availability of cheap graphite, the use of hydrofluoric acid in the purification step, and weak environmental regulations. Northern's proprietary purification technology represents the first viable, cost competitive alternative to the Chinese wet chemical approach.
Coating is mainly done by a few large Japanese, South Korean and Chinese companies and consists of a number of steps centered around covering the graphite sphere with a protective carbon layer that makes it more durable and improves electrochemical performance. Uncoated SPG sells for US$2,500/t while coated SPG sells for $8,000-12,000/t which reflects the costs and complexities involved. Northern's proprietary process is an alternative coating technique which involves fewer and simpler steps leading to much lower costs.
Gregory Bowes, CEO commented: "Our proprietary coating technology performed very well in initial coin cell tests and we have now demonstrated that it is very cost competitive. The next stage is extensive life cycle testing in 18650 cells and assuming results continue to be positive, we will do a pilot plant test to optimize and refine operating parameters."