Battery breakthrough: Dal researcher receives $3.3M to revolutionize the way batteries are made

- May 21, 2021

Faculty of Science researcher Mark Obrovac, left, and Chris Burns, CEO of Novonix. (Provided photo)
Faculty of Science researcher Mark Obrovac, left, and Chris Burns, CEO of Novonix. (Provided photo)

Mark Obrovac, a professor in Dal’s Faculty of Science, has received $3.3 million to advance his work in helping revolutionize the way batteries are made.

The funding is made possible through support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Novonix, a world-class battery materials and technology company, through NSERC’s Alliance Grants program. The grants program supports research projects led by strong, complementary, collaborative teams that will generate new knowledge and accelerate the application of research results to create benefits for Canada.

Spun out of Jeff Dahn’s lab at Dal, Novonix is an integrated developer and supplier of high-performance materials, equipment and services for the global lithium-ion battery industry with operations in the United States and Canada and sales in more than 14 countries. The company’s mission is to support the global development of lithium-ion battery technologies for a cleaner-energy future.

Lower cost and evironmental impact

Dr. Obrovac's research is focused on making higher performing batteries that cost less and have a lower environmental impact than current technologies. His research team has been able to synthesize highly engineered particles by consolidating fine, even submicron particles into particles that are tens of microns. This innovative process, called dry particle microgranulation (or DPMG), allows for the type of precise control of particle internal composition variation, shape, and morphology that is not possible by previous methods.

“I am excited to embark on this new research program,” says Dr. Obrovac. “Rarely do we find paths that lead to materials that are not only more sustainable and less expensive, but also potentially have improved characteristics over current materials. The possibilities for new materials synthesis are enormous for the battery field and in other fields too. I am looking forward to continue our exciting to work with Novonix in this new research program, especially in bringing these discoveries out of the lab and into industrial use which presents new challenges as these processes are utilized on a larger scale.”

The team has also discovered that Li-ion battery graphite and metal oxide particles can be made at 100 per cent yield with no water or waste. This process could be used in many fields to reduce the cost and environmental impact of particle synthesis and enable the synthesis in bulk of new, highly engineered particles.

And, in a unique twist, the graphite spherical particles they are creating are layered like an onion. Such "onion-type" graphite spheres have previously only been observed in inter-stellar space, or made artificially in micrograms. This unique material could lead to better performing Li-ion batteries, and is highly desirable for powdered lubricants.

World-class innovation

“Novonix has been thrilled with the caliber of work from Dr. Obrovac and his team and look forward to another five years of collaborative research,” says Chris Burns, CEO of Novonix. “Dr. Obrovac’s goals of developing new processes and materials for cheaper, cleaner and higher performance batteries aligns with Novonix’s business objectives. Novonix is currently investing in scaling up technology developed in Dr. Obrovac’s lab and sees much more opportunity to come through this new research program.”

Earlier this month, Novonix announced it was exploring a potential listing on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York. It is currently listed on the ASX, the Australian Securities Exchange.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have a world-class battery materials innovator like Dr. Obrovac at Dalhousie,” says Alice Aiken, Dal’s vice president research and innovation. “His new simple and scalable processes are enabling the production of Lithium-ion batteries at reduced cost, with less waste and with greater sustainability. It’s this kind of impressive innovation that will play a key role in creating a greener tomorrow.”

Chris Moore, dean of the Faculty of Science, agrees.

“We are so proud to have Dr. Obrovac as part of the Faculty of Science driving world class research in battery technology. It is because of individuals like him that Dalhousie continues to be a leader in battery solutions that will benefit our planet as we strive for a carbon neutral future.”

Learn more about the work being done by the Obrovac Research Group.


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