6K to expand 3D printing powder and battery cathode production capacities after raising $102M

Speciality 3D printing material developer 6K has managed to raise $102 million in Series D funding. 

Led by Koch Strategic Platforms and supported by Energy Impact Partners, Albemarle, HG Ventures, and 6K’s existing backers, the investment is the first of two tranches that could total up to $150 million. Using its Series D proceeds, the firm aims to expand both its metal powder and cathode production capacities, so that it’s better able to address a rapid growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries. 

“Lithium-ion battery markets will increase tenfold in the next decade, fueled by growth in EVs, as well as supporting critical infrastructure for telecom back-up, data centers, and power plants,” says Aaron Bent, CEO of 6K. “The fact that there is no lithium-ion battery material production on US soil is a concern for both national security and for the industries that are relying on these critical materials.” 

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.

‘UniMelt’ plasma technology 

Based in North Andover, Massachusetts, 6K’s offering revolves around its proprietary UniMelt plasma technology. In the production of materials, the process enables the conversion of recycled feedstock like millings and turnings into 3D printable metal powders, effectively offering an alternative to gas or plasma atomization, that’s said to deliver an improved level of sustainability, cost and efficiency. 

Since 6K’s energy division, 6K Energy, established its Center of Excellence in April 2021, the technology has also been deployed to develop lithium-ion battery materials. In such applications, the UniMelt process is said to allow for the direct control of powders’ physical and chemical particle qualities, in a way that yields feedstock which facilitates the creation of cheaper EV batteries and power banks.

Over the last year, 6K has sought to expand on its production capabilities in this area, raising $51 million towards battery material R&D, as well as acquiring Specialty Metallurgical Products and partnering with Albemarle to develop batteries, that are expected to feature previously unseen levels of energy storage performance. 

“We have been following 6K Energy’s progress since inception and have found that 6K’s UniMelt plasma technology delivers a competitive, production process built on US soil,” said Koch Strategic Platforms MD Jeremy Bezdek. “They have created a transformative battery material production and recycling eco-system, delivering a versatile technology capable of full-scale production with various chemistries.”

“This innovation will help realize advancements in energy transformation and the battery value chain.”

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.

6K’s expected $150 million windfall

6K’s Series D funding round is being led by Koch Strategic Platforms, a subsidiary of the Koch Investments Group (KIG), which seeks out investment and acquisition opportunities for its parent firm. Over the last ten years, KIG’s subsidiaries have deployed more than $60 billion across both the public and private capital markets, as a means of expanding its interests in a broad range of industries. 

Back in January 2019, Koch Disruptive Technologies, another KIG-affiliated firm, led a $160 million investment in Desktop Metal, which has since gone on to become one of the highest profile companies in the industry, launching a series of takeovers

With its latest 3D printing investment, KIG’s Strategic Platforms subsidiary has led a round that’s expected to hit $150 million by the time it closes in Spring 2022. As well as seeing it “add a limited group of strategic investors,” 6K says the move will help finance the opening of its $30 million Battery Center of Excellence and its first 10-20 GWh cathode plant, set to open and enter production in August 2022 and 2024. 

“6K is the only company capable of battery material production at costs lower than Asia, while also reducing impact on the environment by 70%-90%,” concludes Bent. “The investment from Koch Strategic Platforms not only brings the capital required to fuel our growth, but equally important they bring unparalleled commitment and reach within the battery value chain.”

“Disruptive approaches such as this are the only viable way to repatriate this industry.”

A 5x5 cm-squared pouch cell with luminous LED, 3D printed using Blackstone's mysterious technology.
A 5 x 5 cm-squared pouch cell with luminous LED, 3D printed using Blackstone’s technology. Photo via Blackstone.

Bringing 3D printed batteries to market

Even though the 3D printed energy device market remains at an early stage of development, there are already a number of firms seeking to commercialize related technologies. One of which is Blackstone Resources, a Swiss investment firm that’s taken an interest in this area, and currently aims to bring a new 3D printed sodium-ion battery to market by 2025. 

The likes of the Sakuu Corporation, on the other hand, intend to launch their latest high-density 3D printed battery even sooner, in 2023. Earlier this year, the firm revealed that it had reached a new milestone in the development of its device, in that the battery reached an energy density of 800 Wh/L, edging it closer to a market-leading performance level. 

Elsewhere, 3D printer manufacturer Photocentric has also got in on the act, by establishing a dedicated battery R&D division to design its own energy-efficient storage devices containing 3D printed electrodes. It has been reported that the company aims to leverage the technology developed there to create economical fuel cells for Tesla’s upcoming Giga plant.

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