Hydro-Québec, Technifin sign deal for lithium technology for electric vehicles

Hydro-Québec (Canada) and Technifin (South Africa) are pleased to announce that they have entered into an intellectual property collaboration agreement relating to the licensing of their respective intellectual property(IP) in lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) technologies, notably for lithium-ion battery applications.

With the fast-growing market for electrified transportation, LTO technology, when used as the negative electrode (anode) in lithium-ion batteries, is becoming increasingly attractive due to both its long-term safety and high cycle life. Press releases from international research groups and various companies over recent months reflect strong commercial interest in this technology and related IP. Technical papers and press releases by Hydro Québec and other companies have outlined several best-in-class benefits of LTO technology, particularly tremendous improvements in cycle life, fast recharge times and unmatched safety.

The decision by Hydro-Québec and Technifin to pool their respective LTO IP for licensing purposes lays the foundation for responding to the rapidly growing demand from the global battery and automotive industries for reliable sources of LTO by allowing fast and broad-based market penetration of high-quality LTO materials. Technology transfer and know-how will be provided with the support of Hydro-Québec researchers to enable rapid and efficient implementation of the technology in battery products. A number of licences have recently been granted for patents within the IP pooled portfolio.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have literally changed the world. Today’s cell phones, laptop computers, and hybrid and electric vehicles would not exist without lithium-ion technology. The unsurpassed capabilities offered by LTO technology will be of benefit in numerous new applications, including electric and hybrid automobile batteries and stationary energy storage for "smart grid" applications.

The Hydro-Québec/Technifin LTO patents comprise two separate groups of patent rights affording extensive worldwide protection for LTO technology. The first group, the Technifin patents, cover the basic use in lithium-ion cells of the LTO anodes invented in 1994 by world renowned scientist Dr. Michael Thackeray while at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa. The second group covers the potential of LTO that was recognized in 1995 by Dr. Karim Zaghib at Hydro-Québec’s research institute, IREQ. Dr. Zaghib subsequently exploited, improved and patented novel aspects of LTO technology.

Lithium titanate spinel oxide, notably Li4Ti5O12, is an attractive anode material for lithium-ion batteries. It operates at 1.5 V above the potential of metallic lithium, thereby resulting in battery couples with remarkable safety compared to conventional systems that use lithiated graphite, LiC6, as the anode. Battery couples include LTO/LMO (lithium manganese oxide spinel), LTO/LMNO (lithium manganese nickel oxide spinel) and LTO/LFP (lithium iron phosphate olivine). The three-dimensional space for lithium-ion movement within the LTO spinel framework provides an exceptionally high transport rate, particularly when nano-sized LTO particles are used. Furthermore, the lithium insertion and extraction reactions that take place during charge and discharge, respectively, occur with no significant contraction/expansion of the crystal lattice, resulting in a much higher cycle life. Despite the low capacity of LTO (175 mAh/g) relative to that of graphite (372 mAh/g), lithium-ion cells with advanced LTO anodes are particularly attractive for a new, emerging generation of safe lithium-ion batteries to power hybrid electric vehicles and other mobile devices, as well as for stationary energy storage applications.

Michael Thackeray is a Distinguished Fellow and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, USA. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and studied as a post-doctoral fellow with Professor John Goodenough at Oxford University in the early 1980s. Thereafter, he returned to South Africa to head the Battery Department at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research before moving to Argonne in 1994. He is currently the Director of the Center for Electrical Energy Storage: Tailored Interfaces (one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Centers), which is a partnership between Argonne, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Thackeray has contributed to the discovery of several new battery chemistries and to the design of materials for these systems, several of which have been licensed to industry worldwide. He is the author of more than 200 papers and an inventor with 44 patents. His research has been published widely and recognized by several national and international awards, notably the International Battery Association Yeager Award (2011); U.S. Department of Energy R&D Award (2010); R&D100 Award (2009); Electrochemical Society Research Award, Battery Division (2005); University of Chicago Distinguished Performance Medal (2005); International Battery Association Research Award (1993); CSIR Outstanding Achiever Award (1993); and Silver Medal, South African Institute of Physics (1983). Dr. Thackeray is also recognized on the commemorative wall at Africa’s first internationally accredited science park, The Innovation Hub, South Africa (2005).

Dr. Karim Zaghib received his Ph.D. from the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble in 1990 and undertook post-doctoral studies under a Saft-DGA contract (1990-1992). From 1992 to 1995, Dr. Zaghib was a guest researcher at the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and at the Osaka National Research Institute (ONRI). In 1995, he joined Hydro-Québec, where he currently serves as Administrator of the energy storage and conversion unit. Dr. Zaghib is especially well known for his contributions to the development and understanding of lithium-ion battery materials, particularly through his collaborations with Kim Kinoshita (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA) on graphite anodes, and with Michel Armand (CNRS, France), John Goodenough (University of Texas, Austin, USA), and Christian Julien and Alain Mauger (Paris 6 University, France) on olivine cathodes. In 1996, he was the first to propose the use of nano-scale LTO for lithium-ion batteries and hybrid supercapacitors.

Dr. Zaghib is a highly active member of the Electrochemical Society (ECS). He received the Energy Technology Division Research Award in 2009, was elected an ECS Fellow in 2011, and recently completed his term as Chair of the Energy Technology Division. Dr. Zaghib has received several awards for his lithium-ion battery research, notably the International Battery Association (IBA) Research Award (2010) and the International Electric Research Exchange (IERE) Research Award (2008). Dr. Zaghib is the author of 150 papers, the editor or co-editor of 13 books, and an inventor with 88 patents.

Hydro-Québec is a world-class public utility that generates, transmits and distributes electricity. Its sole shareholder is the Québec government. It primarily exploits renewable generating options, in particular hydropower, and supports the development of wind energy through purchases from independent power producers. Its research institute, IREQ, conducts R&D in energy efficiency, energy storage and other energy-related fields. Hydro-Québec invests more than $100 million per year in research. It has been conducting research on batteries for over 30 years, including extensive work on advanced materials, particularly molten salts, lithium iron phosphate and nanotitanates. It is helping to develop safe, high-performance lithium-ion batteries that can be charged more quickly and a greater number of times. The future success of plug-in vehicles largely depends on the battery. Innovation efforts cover both high-power batteries and high-energy batteries.

Technifin, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), owns and licenses patents that originate from CSIR. CSIR is one of the leading science and technology research, development and implementation organizations in Africa. Constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1945 as a science council, CSIR undertakes directed and multidisciplinary research, technological innovation, as well as industrial and scientific development to improve the quality of life of the country’s people.

CSIR invests more than $200 million per year in research and has been involved in battery research since 1974. In particular, CSIR pioneered the discovery and early development of high-temperature sodium-metal chloride ("Zebra") batteries and was an early creator of intellectual property that was core to the international commercialization of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

CSIR is committed to supporting innovation in South Africa to improve national competitiveness in the global economy. Science and technology services and solutions are provided in support of various stakeholders, and opportunities are identified where new technologies can be further developed and exploited in the private and public sectors for commercial and social benefit.