6K launches new $25M battery material production facility

6K, a developer of specialist 3D printing materials, has announced the establishment of a new Center of Excellence for its energy division, 6K Energy.

The 33,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility will focus on the development of new sustainable battery materials for energy storage devices. Targeting electric vehicles (EV), grid storage, and consumer goods, the company is set to invest $25 million over the next years into this Center of Excellence, which will be located in North Andover, MA.

As well as expanding the size of its dedicated product development team, 6K Energy will equip the new facility with up to ten of its proprietary UniMelt material production systems. Starting off with a pilot production run, the company eventually intends to scale up to mass production, helping the U.S. alleviate supply chain risks with local, clean energy-based battery material production.

Former Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a 6K board member, said, “The Biden administration’s executive order clearly outlines a commitment for the United States to lead clean energy technology, especially in the area of batteries for electric vehicles. The new order also calls for a review of supply chains and ensuring the domestic supply of four key areas, one of them being battery production.”

6K's Battery Center of Excellence in North Andover, MA. Photo via 6K.
6K’s Battery Center of Excellence in North Andover, MA. Photo via 6K.

Sustainable material production with UniMelt

The UniMelt system is based on 6K’s microwave plasma process, which converts millings, turnings, and other recycled feedstock into 3D printable metal powders. Known for its high-throughput production capabilities, the system is used extensively for materials such as  Onyx In718, Onyx Ti64, ferrous alloys, cobalt-based alloys, and even high-temperature ceramics.

Now being applied to battery materials, the technology reportedly offers sustainability benefits like “no other battery material production platform in the world”. For example, 6K estimates that if a conventional battery cathode manufacturing facility were to be replaced with the UniMelt process, water usage would be cut by 90% and 100% of the wastewater would be eliminated altogether. The facility would also see energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions down by up to 70%.

Kennedy adds, “The new Center of Excellence will not only allow 6K to address the Biden administration’s concerns, but it enables 6K’s key partners and players in the battery production space to take advantage of a scalable, green process based in the US to fulfill the US supply chain requirements.”

A peek inside the UniMelt system. Photo via 6K.
A peek inside the UniMelt system. Photo via 6K.

6K Energy’s Center of Excellence

Each of the UniMelt systems is expected to produce up to 100 tons of material per year. Once in full swing, the Center of Excellence will be a source for everything from single crystal cathodes to solid-state electrolyte materials and silicon anodes. The initial pilot production runs will also serve as opportunities to support partner qualification, facilitating the rapid commercialization of low-cost energy storage devices.

The expansion could very well have major implications for the performance of future US-based EV products, enabling improved cycle lives, greater safety, smaller form factors, and a boost to vehicle range.

Dr. Aaron Bent, CEO of 6K, concludes, “Production of advanced materials for batteries is virtually non-existent in the United States. The investment we are making in infrastructure and team will accelerate our time-to-market to deliver lower cost, next generation battery materials produced on US soil.”

A UniMelt system at a 3D printing material production facility. Photo via 6K.
A UniMelt system at a 3D printing material production facility. Photo via 6K.

In industry, additive manufacturing powders are often just as important as 3D printing processes when it comes to high-performance applications. Just this month, metal powder producer PyroGenesis announced that its new Additive Manufacturing NexGen powder production line was completed and operational. With an impressive throughput capability of 25kg/h, there are reportedly several “major top-tier” aerospace companies awaiting powders from the NexGen production line.

Elsewhere, Kanthal, the heating technology arm engineering firm Sandvik, recently invested €2 million in ultra-modern atomizing equipment to further advance its own 3D printing powder metallurgy capabilities.

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Featured image shows 6K’s Battery Center of Excellence in North Andover, MA. Photo via 6K.