Novonix expects to begin producing synthetic graphite by this spring in Chattanooga to become the first U.S. supplier of the key ingredient for the growing battery market.
Daniel Deas, chief operating officer of the Brisbane, Australia-based Novonix, said Monday he expects production to begin on that timeline at the former Alstom Power plant on Riverfront Parkway that the company acquired last year for its first phase of U.S. production.
Once the $160 million plant in the development now known as the Bend is in full operation next year, Deas said the company is eager to move ahead with an even bigger production facility that also could be built in Chattanooga and swell the company's local staff to 1,000 employees.
"We believe that Novonix is critical to advancing the North American electrification story and supply chain," Deas said during a kickoff luncheon for Chattanooga Engineers Week on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus. "This field is wide open and in desperate need of innovators. We need engineers to lead the way."
Over time, Novonix is eager to become a major supplier for the batteries needed to power electric vehicles. Most of the world's supply of materials for lithium-ion batteries comes from China, where the government is backing the growing battery industry to try to gain global dominance as carmakers switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles.
Demand for graphite was 71,000 tons in 2021 and is projected to grow to 473,000 tons by 2025 and 618,000 tons by 2030. Novonix plans to boost its annual production volume to 10,000 tons by 2023, 40,000 tons by 2025 and 150,000 tons by 2030.
Last month, Novonix executed a letter of intent to enter into investment and supply agreements with Kore Power, a U.S-based manufacturer of high-energy-density lithium-ion pouch cells and module configurations for the electric vehicle and energy sector applications. The agreement marks the first supply arrangement for the key elements of lithium-ion batteries by any U.S. supplier, Deas said.
Novonix and Kore first worked together in 2019 on testing agreements to focus on the validation and development of Kore Power's battery cell technologies. Once the deal reaches final approval, Novonix will acquire a 5% stake in Kore Power and will become the exclusive supplier of graphite anode materials to Kore Power's large-scale battery cell manufacturing facility in the U.S.
"We are reducing the reliance on foreign materials and furthering the United States' position as a global energy storage leader by providing high-capacity long-life synthetic graphite anode material to a leading domestic developer," Novonix CEO Chris Burns said in an announcement of the agreement last month.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who introduced Deas during Monday's Engineers' Week kickoff luncheon, said he first heard about the battery supplier a couple of years ago when retired Navy Adm. Robert J. Natter, the chair of Novonix, visited Corker and talked about where to locate its U.S. operations.
Corker, a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Chattanooga mayor, said his hometown is ideally suited with its relatively cheap electric power from TVA, its manufacturing workforce and its riverfront access. Novonix can bring the raw materials from Louisiana oil refineries up the Tennessee River and limit the amount of global shipping for production to only a fraction of what now happens between the U.S., China and other Asian production companies.
But Corker said the main reasons Novonix is expanding in Chattanooga are its chief operating officer, Deas, who grew up in East Ridge and played baseball at Chattanooga State before going in the military, and Chief Technology Officer Harrison Kreafle, who grew up in North Georgia and went to Georgia Tech before joining Novonix.
"These are homegrown engineers who are taking the research that has been done in Nova Scotia and around the world to help make Chattanooga the center of the future of the synthetic graphite industry," Corker said.
Deas said the 400,000-square-foot Alstom Power facility known "Big Blue" on Riverfront Parkway, which GE shut down in 2016 less than a decade after Alstom invested $300 million to upgrade the plant for its production of nuclear plant equipment, provided the type of facility needed for the graphite production and is saving nearly a year's time in getting to production compared to what it would take to build a new site.
"It's challenging but it has been a lot of fun," Deas said.