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Charging onward: Canadian expertise helping to revolutionize how energy is used, created, and redirected

February 18, 2021 | New Flyer

Published by The Hill Times

Canada has virtually all the raw materials needed for the production of lithium-ion batteries and is home to several companies that work on producing finished products.

It’s hard to deny that the Earth’s climate is changing. We’re seeing warming temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and more severe weather events. The science is clear that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the same rate we are now, we’re going to heat the planet to death. This has made managing and developing new and renewable energy resources, while minimizing their environmental impact, one of our most pressing challenges.

Fortunately, Canada has significant strengths in this area, including lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery research and development; battery manufacturing; materials development; electric vehicle manufacturing; and access to battery materials. It’s an effort that requires not only universities across the country, but companies, both in the public and private sectors.

In 2015, Dalhousie University signed an exclusive partnership with Tesla—the first between the leading American electric vehicle company and a Canadian university. This partnership has been integral to our work, and given us new stimulus to take research on Li-ion cells to the next level. Recently, we were pleased to extend the partnership until 2026 and have had two advanced battery scientists recently join this partnership in research chair roles.

Nova Scotia is also home to a battery research and development hub, led by Novonix, which serves industrial clients from around the world. The company has a partnership with Dr. Mark Obrovac, whose work focuses on designing new materials that can store large amounts of energy for next generation Li-ion and beyond.

In Montreal, there are strong efforts on Li-ion battery materials by Dr. Mickael Dolle at the Université de Montréal; Dr. Steen Schougaard at the Université du Québec à Montréal; and Dr. Eric McCalla at McGill University. In addition, Hydro-Québec has a state-of-the-art research centre with facilities for Li-ion battery research and development.

Ontario’s Dr. Linda Nazar, from the University of Waterloo, and Dr. Andy Sun from Western University, have world-class efforts on solid state batteries and advanced lithium-ion batteries. And Dr. Zhongwei Chen and Dr. Pu Chen (both from the University of Waterloo) have made large efforts on Li-ion and other advanced batteries.

In Mississauga, there’s Electrovaya, which has a research and development facility coupled to its Li-ion battery manufacturing facility.

Looking further west, Dr. Venkataraman Thangadurai at the University of Calgary is a world expert on solid electrolytes. And, Maple Ridge, B.C., is home to E-One Moli Energy Canada Ltd, which is the research and development arm of E-One Corp. of Taiwan. The company has roughly 70 people doing R+D on advanced Li-ion batteries.

When it comes to manufacturing Li-ion cells for sale, there are two companies involved—Electrovaya and E-One Moli Energy Canada. E-One moved its manufacturing to Taiwan in 2009, but is looking to re-establish Canadian manufacturing. Government support would go a long way in facilitating this. In addition, Tesla recently acquired Hibar Systems in Richmond Hill, Ont. They manufacture high-speed battery manufacturing equipment.

Although there has been some talk from major automakers about building electric vehicle plants in Canada, I believe this is still a little further down the road.

At this time, a significant success story is Lion Electric Energy of Saint-Jérôme, Que. Lion manufactures electric school buses and electric garbage trucks using Li-ion battery modules sourced at this time from BMW, and in the near future from Romeo Power (in California).

There’s also New Flyer of Winnipeg, which is offering two models of all-electric buses at this time. New Flyer manufactures 43 per cent of all transit and touring buses in North America, and obtains its Li-ion batteries and battery modules from Xalt Energy of Michigan.

Canada also has virtually all the raw materials needed for the production of lithium-ion batteries and is home to several companies that work on producing finished products. Avicenne Energy forecasts an annual consumption of 600,000 tons of lithium by 2025 (as lithium carbonate), 1.25 million tons of positive electrode materials by 2030, and 1.05 million tons of graphite for Li-ion batteries by 2030. Canada can play a big role here.

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