North Andover materials company 6K is getting $50 million in federal infrastructure cash to help build a factory that uses a radically different way to make lithium-ion batteries.
The grant, announced this week, will help cover the $107 million cost of a full-scale plant in the southeastern United States, a region where companies like General Motors, Ford, and South Korean manufacturer LG are spending billions to erect battery manufacturing facilities for millions of electric cars. A location for the new plant has not yet been selected.
The federal grant comes from a $7 billion fund earmarked for projects to build up the domestic battery industry and reduce US dependence on China, presently the world’s leading supplier of lithium-ion batteries.
“We are leapfrogging China with a totally different technology,” said Aaron Bent, 6K’s chief executive, who said his process can make cathode material for half the cost of Chinese manufacturers. “We have a real fighting chance of creating a long-term viable industry.”
Founded in 2014, 6K has raised about $183 million in venture funding. The company uses microwaves to generate an intensely hot stream of ionized matter called a plasma. Indeed the company’s name stands for 6,000 degrees Celsius, the temperature of the plasma. When lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other minerals are fed into the plasma, they’re quickly converted to the compound used in the cathodes of lithium-ion batteries. The material is then shipped to factories that incorporate it into finished batteries.
“It’s a different manufacturing process that should significantly reduce cost if they can get it to scale up,” said Sam Abuelsamid, who tracks the battery industry for Guidehouse Insights in Detroit.
The 6K factory is expected to begin production in 2025. It will put out 3,000 tons of battery materials at first, surging to 10,000 tons in 2026. In addition, 6K is building a $50 million pilot plant in Wilmington where the company can continue to improve the process.
Earlier this month, Michigan battery company ONE announced that it will use 6K’s plasma technology in a new $1.6 billion facility set to begin production in 2024.