AMS Spring 2023

3D Printing Firm 6K to Make Battery Materials with ONE

6K SmarTech

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In addition to its efforts making metal powders for 3D printing, 6K dedicates its energy to the energy sector itself. Through 6K Energy, the Massachusetts startup produces materials for lithium-ion batteries. Now, the firm has signed a joint development agreement with Our Next Energy (ONE) to develop and manufacture the critical battery material ONE will use for its battery platforms, Gemini and Aries. While there is no public plan to combine 3D printing from 6K Additive with battery materials from 6K Energy, there may be implications in this announcement for the future of 3D printable batteries.

About 6K and ONE

6K’s UniMelt plasma technology derives much of its sustainability benefits from the sheer speed with which it can convert metal feedstock into powder. Using a 6000K degree microwave plasma, the company is able to process material in as little as two seconds, resulting in half the energy footprint of traditional cathode active material (CAM) plants today. 6K also suggests that, by relying on UniMelt, battery companies could reduce their capital expenses, conversion costs, eliminate solid and liquid hazardous waste, while cutting water use by 90 percent.

6K’s UniMelt microwave plasma recycles feedstock into metal powder. Image courtesy of 6K.

A Michigan-based startup, ONE has raised $90 million thus far from investors that include BMW iVentures. The company is focused on developing the next generation of battery technology, claiming to have invented anode-free energy storage device, Gemini, capable of delivering a 752-mile range on a 2021 Tesla Model S. While Gemini has an energy density of 450 Wh/L, Aries is about half that at 287 Wh/L.

Collaborating on Next Gen Batteries

With ONE, it will use this process to produce iron phosphate and manganese battery materials for ONE’s energy storage technology. This allows both companies to increase the supply of locally made electric vehicle batteries for auto manufacturers in the U.S. The partnership will begin at 6K Energy’s Battery Center of Excellence located in North Andover, MA to develop qualification and performance targets. Once certain milestones have been achieved, UniMelt technology would be used to process cathode materials at ONE’s manufacturing facility.

The partners highlight their collaborations with established businesses to showcase the role that 6K and ONE could have in a larger automotive battery supply chain. While 6K sources its lithium from Albemarle, ONE recently signed an agreement with BMW Group to create a prototype vehicle that relies on ONE’s Gemini dual-chemistry battery.

“ONE is recognized in the industry as chartering exciting new milestones with their Gemini and Aries battery technologies,” said Sam Trinch, 6K Energy president. “This agreement allows us to leverage the power of our UniMelt microwave plasma to extend performance of the chemistries, while keeping production on US soil.”

“This agreement with 6K Energy represents an important milestone for both organizations. By onshoring our cell manufacturing and battery materials and implementing a localized supply chain, ONE will be able to reduce our products carbon emissions by 34%. Implementing 6K’s UniMelt technology will help ONE further drive down our emissions,” added Dr. Deeana Ahmed, Vice President of Strategy and Government Relations at ONE. “Since 2020, supply chain disruptions have underscored the importance of a domestic battery supply chain. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is vital for this partnership; the unprecedented incentives contained in the IRA will accelerate demand for American-made energy storage technology. The law will facilitate new partnerships that will define the next generation of manufacturing jobs.”

New Energy with Old Players

Interestingly, ONE CEO and founder Mujeeb Ijaz previously worked at a company familiar to some of our readers. No, not Apple, though he did work there as well, as senior director and developed energy storage solutions. Ijaz was also at A123 Systems, founded and led by Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop. That’s not the only overlap between the two. Both Desktop Metal and ONE’s new partner, 6K, have received investments from Koch divisions.

The Gemini “anode-free” battery from ONE. Image courtesy of ONE.

It seems as though the Kochs have been interested in both financing ventures for ecological destruction as well those that attempt to salvage what’s left. Of course, they’re not the only ones. BASF, for instance, is the world’s largest chemical company with a division dedicated to oil and gas exploration to fuel its polymers production. Meanwhile, the company significantly invests in bioplastics and helps reduce the energy intensity of chemicals production.

Joe Kennedy is a member of 6K’s Board of Directors. Image courtesy of 6K.

Really, the interest of Koch Ventures in more sustainable forms of energy represents what should be considered the status quo in the sustainable energy transition. Given the power and, in fact, critical role of oil and gas giants in global industrial society, those same conglomerates will be the ones that guide the transition. They have the most vested interest in both oil and gas and surviving the necessary shift to renewables. Macro Analyst Matt Kremenetsky put it this way:

“As much as companies in oil & gas also like to deny that climate change exists, they have nonetheless long known that their futures depend on their own abilities to contribute to emissions-reductions as much as possible, while also diversifying the energy-sources they’re invested in… As cruel as the irony may be, the transition to renewable energy seems destined to happen under the guidance of the oil & gas sector.”

3D Printing Batteries

There’s still no word if 6K will be involved in the 3D printing of batteries. There are few firms publicly exploring such a technology, including Blackstone Resources and Sakuu. However, given the fact that 6K does have those two divisions, it seems inevitable that they intersect at some point. After all, if it can produce powder for batteries and for 3D printing, then we would expect to see a firm that is attempting to 3D print batteries to source the material from 6K.

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