6K, a developer of specialist 3D printing materials, has signed a joint development agreement with global chemicals firm Albemarle Corporation for the production of novel lithium-ion battery materials.
The joint effort will be enabled by 6K’s patented UniMelt technology, a sustainable materials production platform used to create industrial-grade powders.
Alongside the joint development agreement, Albemarle has also made an undisclosed capital investment in 6K. The investment was made through Volta Energy Technologies, a 2017 VC firm focused on the energy storage sector and an existing investor of 6K.
“Albemarle’s engagement with 6K is yet another example of Albemarle’s commitment to maintain its technology leadership in lithium,” said Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, CEO of Volta Energy Technologies. “Volta is thrilled that 6K continues to work directly with world leaders in the development of its ground-breaking manufacturing technology.”
The UniMelt microwave plasma system
6K’s UniMelt system operates on the company’s proprietary microwave plasma process, which is designed to convert millings, turnings, and other recycled waste materials into usable 3D printing materials. The process is defined by its high-volume production capabilities and is able to produce a wide variety of industrial powders such as Onyx In718, Onyx Ti64, ferrous alloys, cobalt-based alloys, and even high-temperature ceramics.
The company had already repurposed its UniMelt technology for the development of lithium-ion battery materials back in April 2021, when it established a new Center of Excellence for its energy division, 6K Energy. Located in North Andover, MA, the 33,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility has since been focusing on the development of new sustainable battery materials.
More recently, in September, 6K also raised $51 million in a Series C financing round to ramp up its battery material development efforts. Specifically, the firm used the funds to double the floorspace of its Center of Excellence while also doubling its 6K Energy employee count.
With Albemarle and its battery material expertise now in the scene, 6K’s UniMelt technology is expected to enable previously unseen energy storage device performances.
Dr. Glen Merfeld, CTO for Albemarle Lithium, adds, “Albemarle is developing advanced lithium materials to enable breakthrough levels of lithium-ion battery performance. The UniMelt plasma technology opens new reaction pathways for lithium material innovation. Our collaboration with 6K has significant potential.”
Towards sustainable battery material production
The use of UniMelt is also expected to usher in a whole host of sustainability benefits, unlike other conventional battery production platforms. For example, 6K states that if a traditional 16GWh battery cathode production plant was replaced with an equivalent UniMelt production facility, it could cut CO2 emissions by up to 70%. Water consumption could also be slashed by up to 90%, and wastewater production would be eliminated altogether, all while requiring 50% less factory space.
If all goes well, the joint development agreement could have major implications for sectors such as electric vehicles, grid storage, and consumer goods. Specifically, devices and systems that rely on energy storage devices could very well begin to benefit from improved cycle lives, greater safety, more compact form factors, and greater storage capacity.
“We are pleased to partner with a world leader in lithium technology and production”, commented Dr. Aaron Bent, 6K’s CEO. “The agreement with Albemarle highlights the commitment of both organizations to drive battery material performance enhancements while introducing more sustainable production methods. We are thrilled to welcome Albemarle to our investor group and our engineers are eager to work alongside Albemarle’s team.”
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Featured image shows a peek inside the UniMelt microwave plasma system. Photo via 6K.