Battery 3D Printing Firm Considers Publicly Traded U.S. Branch

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Blackstone Resources AG (SWX: BLS) has announced that it is exploring the possibility of opening a U.S. branch that would be publicly traded. The firm, which is currently traded on the SWISS Six exchange, is considering the move as a means of raising further funds and diversifying its existing investor base. This would drive the company’s development as it launches a battery 3D printing technology in 2022.

Blackstone Resources is a Swiss Holding company focused on battery technology and metals. Through its subsidiary, Blackstone Technology, the firm is creating a process dubbed Blackstone Thick Layer Technology for 3D printing lithium-ion batteries with 20 percent greater density than those made with traditional methods.

The company claims that its patented process can fabricate both liquid-electrolyte and solid-state batteries, potentially cutting capital expenditure by 70 percent and operational costs by 30 percent compared to conventional techniques. For solid state batteries, which it says it will be able to mass produce, it even suggests that energy density can be increased by 100 percent. The manufacturing process is said to use 25 percent less energy, as well, due to efficiency gained in the drying process.

Additionally, Blackstone Resources establishes and manages refineries for processing battery-related metals, such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, graphite, nickel and copper. It says that it is involved in projects in Canada, Chile, Mongolia, Peru, Norway and Colombia. In each of these locations, it is executing such endeavors as investing in First Cobalt, to obtain a stake in ethically produced cobalt in Canada and Idaho, or exploring mining concessions for possible lithium. Blackstone claims to have begun exploring for a number of minerals.

Mining is an industry that can be utilized for fraudulent investment activity due to the need for extensive surveying and exploration before financial gains can be made. This combined with promises of new technologies, a generic website, and the fact that the company is already trading on the stock market before releasing a product raised a couple of red flags.

While the Swiss SIX is the country’s primary stock exchange, thus lending a note of trustworthiness to Blackstone, it’s always crucial to investigate a company before investing. In the past, there have been fraudulent businesses that use stock markets as a means of fueling pump-and-dump schemes. One of the ways they generate activity on poorly regulated markets is by releasing regular press releases that cause excited, sometimes inexperienced, investors to purchase stock. These press releases might be distributed on forums by company insiders. When the stock goes up, the insiders sell and generate a bit of money for themselves.

In particular, Jason Simpson, the inventor of what was once Australia’s largest extrusion 3D printer, was taken advantage of by some investors who used the ASX to conduct such an operation. Simpson’s 3D Group was also linked to a variety of mining operations, as well as some legitimate businesses. The Victorian government even funded 3D Group to produce 3D printers for educational programs.

It was with this in mind that I looked a bit at the background of Blackstone and its management. On its website, Blackstone boasts a number of managers spanning its businesses, including Blackstone Technology and Blackstone Resources Chile SpA, but fewer traditional staff members, including engineers and technicians—though there is an office manager on LinkedIn. Importantly, the company claims that it has already completed the second phase of its battery printing project, “the first 3D screen-printed solid-state battery cells.”

However, of these managers and executives, many seem to have established backgrounds specifically in the areas necessary for mining and battery development. For instance, Dr. David Flaschenträger worked in battery technology for BMZ GmbH, E-Force One AG, and Quantron AG, as well as at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Holger Gritzka, CEO of Blackstone Technology, previously ran TerraE Holdings and TerraE Engineering GmbH, which sold to German battery maker BMZ for €120 million in 2018. This came just after a TerraE-led consortium dedicated to German-made batteries seemed to collapse. Before that, Gritzka was the Head of Battery Plant Technologies at thyssenkrupp System Engineering GmbH.

Additionally, the company’s advisory board has an impressive roster. This includes Franz Fink, whose Maxwell Technologies was bought by Tesla for US$ 218 million, and Ulrich Ehmes, who was CEO of Swiss lithium-ion battery producer Leclanché SA and CTO of TerraE. The board also includes prominent academics in the field of battery research and development.

The company also seems to be making progress in the development of its technology. CEO Ulrich Ernst does in fact have a patent for the printing of batteries. Blackstone Technology has 3D printed a mechanically stable solid-state electrolyte as a separator, produced a printable composite cathode (as well as a solid-state electrolyte and lithium iron phosphate composite), and printed a 5 x 5 square cm pouch cell as a functional demonstrator without a mechanical spacer.

The 5 x 5 sq cm pouch cell. Image courtesy of Blackstone Resources.

With its partners, Blackstone was awarded a CHF 1.3 million grant from the Swiss innovation agency, Innosuisse, to continue its work on solid-state electrolytes, specifically the simulation of mass 3D printing solid state batteries and scale up the process. Also along with its partners, Blackstone Technology was awarded a €2 million grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program. Blackstone is one company within a consortium of 12 players to electrify Europe’s shipping industry, for which it aims to create batteries in 2022.

Unlike the suspicious mining projects I’ve come across in the past, Blackstone doesn’t provide ridiculous estimates of the types of minerals it expects to be found in the areas it is exploring. Instead, it describes the fact that the regions it is exploring are known to have deposits and provides fair and measured information about the extent of its work in those areas. Therefore, the places where it has already begun exploring, like Norway, have much more extensive detail than the locations where work is only beginning, like Colombia. It seems to have at least one mine up and running, in Peru, where it is mining gold and silver.

With all of this in mind, I have concluded that the firm seems to be mostly on the level. By reaching across the ocean to the U.S., it will compete against companies like Sakuu, which is in the process of releasing an alpha system. It will also be able to gain investors from those wishing to compete with Sakuu. Blackstone claims to already be in talks with investment banks and will begin production of batteries in September 2021. To get onto a U.S. stock exchange, Blackstone is considering the use of a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), leveraged buyout or even an IPO.

So, while Blackstone may not be as well-known as a firm like Rocket Lab or Desktop Metal, it could be a potentially disruptive player in the world of battery manufacturing. Whether that’s enough to back it on the stock market is another story.

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