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Move over Tesla: The electric car surge pushing Qld tech company into overdrive


Novonix wants to make one thing clear: It is not just a Tesla story no matter what the hordes of speculators who piled into the stock in recent weeks think.

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Its visions are a lot bigger than just Tesla.

The plan for the battery materials company is to “scale rapidly’’ to catch the huge changes that are occurring around the world, managing director Chris Burns told InQueensland.

The EV market is booming. According to the International Energy Agency, only about 17,000 electric cars were on the world’s roads in 2010. By 2019, that number had swelled to 7.2 million, mostly in China.

Last year Novonix told investors sales would jump to 10 million by 2025 and 56 million by 2040.

But that is just the start. GM recently announced it would not be selling internal combustion engines by 2035. The UK has announced it would ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and the European Union may move earlier. France has made the transition law.

“Even five years ago these were things people didn’t think we feasible,’’ Burns said.

“They thought there would be 10-15 per cent market share for EVs by 2040. Now the bolder people are saying it’s going to be 50 per cent by 2030.’’

Novonix boldly claims that the demand for graphite anode material it produces at its PUREgraphite subsidiary for lithium-ion batteries in the United States was “increasing exponentially” and it has signed supply deals with Samsung SDI and Sanyo, makers of lithium batteries.

In the US, President Joe Biden has mandated a switch to EVs for Federal Government cars. In Australia, the change has been slow but the country doesn’t manufacture cars anymore and will have to accept what the world gives it.

Burns wants Novonix to be at the heart of this change.

“The problem is people want to buy this material in large volumes today so everything we are focused on now is working on our plan to scale rapidly to support requirements that are not five years away, they are this year and every subsequent year,’’ Burns said.

First the industry has to beat off the competition from fuel cells and hydrogen but some experts think that process has too many inefficiencies and the lithium-ion batteries in EVs have already managed to get a head start. Japan and Korea think otherwise.

“There are companies out there now talking about solid-state batteries or lithium air batteries and these kinds of developmental technologies that could be revolutionary for energy storage,’’ Burns said.

“But by these companies’ own admission these technologies are six or seven years away from being commercial and that is probably what they said six or seven years ago.’’

The big hurdle Burns sees is cost. Lithium-ion batteries are hugely expensive and the anode and cathode materials are a big part of that. Batteries have been estimated to make up about 30 per cent of the cost of an EV.

While the cost is coming down he said Tesla had outlined a roadmap to halve the cost of the battery in the vehicle without changing the essential chemistry.

“We need continued great engineering and great innovation in how we decrease costs and that’s where are focused,’’ he said.

He said the current technology used by a lot of graphite companies was about 100 years old and had significant emission issues which could face regulatory issues in the years to come.

“Today’s batteries are great. The range is good, charge time is good, cycle life is good. The problem is cost. Everything we are focused on is to improve and make incremental gains in performance but really focus on decreasing costs,” he said.

“At the heart of the business is innovation to reduce costs. Those are big steps to allow PUREGraphite to be scaling rapidly over the coming years.”

But so much of what has happened to Novonix in the past year has been about its ties to Tesla. Its shares have ridden some huge waves as the Tesla name was bandied about.

The stock neared $2 last year before Tesla’s “battery day’’ where founder Elon Musk outlined the future of the electric vehicle company and, by extension, lithium batteries.

The expectation was that Novonix would be named as a supplier to Tesla’s own battery supply chain. It wasn’t and its shares dropped back to around the $1 mark.

Then along came Jeff Dahn.

Dahn is a scientist who pioneered EV batteries and has a research partnership with Tesla. He recently claimed batteries could have a life of 2 million miles (3.2 million km).

Dahn also has a long history with Burns and has been appointed as a scientific advisor to the company.

That sent the share price soaring. It jumped past $4 and sent the Novonix market value above $2 billion. Not bad for a company that had revenue of $4 million last year and posted a loss of $20 million.

It has since dropped back to a market value of about $1 billion and its share price is sitting below $3.

“I think the share price is a recognition of a lot of work that has been going on in the background of the business. I think it may look like a very steep rise and that was what it manifested as, but this has been the position of the company for a long time,” Burns said.

“Of course there was a big jump with the announcement of Jeff and rightfully so, he is going to add a ton of value to the business, but it was also at the time we were announcing our partnership with Harper (furnace technology) and the grant funding (from the US Government) which shows how important this is to the US.

“While Jeff may be seen as the catalyst, there are a number of things there that continue to show our shareholders the position of our company.”

Burns said there was a lot more to the company than any supposed link to Tesla.

“Of course we want to work with Tesla as soon as we can and help them with their products but too many people focus on our story being predicated on a relationship with Tesla. It’s not what we need to succeed. Of course it helps but it’s not the only option.

“I think the share price is a recognition of a lot of work that has been going on in the background of the business. I think it may look like a very steep rise and that was what it manifested as, but this has been the position of the company for a long time.

“There is so much talk about Tesla and our relationship with Tesla. While, of course, we love the idea of working with Tesla, we would love to supply materials to it, but this is not a story that lives and dies with Tesla.

“There are major cell manufactures in the world and right now and Tesla is not one of them. That’s, of course, not to say in any way they won’t become one this decade but there are huge opportunities to enter the supply chains of folks like Samsung and Sanyo.’’

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