Jordan Blum, editorial director, Hart Energy: We are here at CERAWeek by S&P Global in Houston. I'm joined by Srini Godavarthy, the CEO of Li-Metal in Canada — that's Li as in Lithium. Obviously a young but rapidly growing North American company. I just wanted to get your take on, from a lithium standpoint, how important is it for North America to scale up its lithium capabilities at a time when China has such a dominant role in the marketplace?

Srini Godavarthy, CEO, Li-Metal: It really does. It's just not lithium, it is the entire battery value chain overall. We are so dependent on China, be it lithium, graphite or the cathodes. So much of it is centered around China and the supply chain all goes towards China before the finished products come here. I think it's critical, at least from a geopolitical situation, that you build your own value chain and network. I mean we have seen China in the last couple of years kind of block out rare earth now graphite. So as we look at this energy transition and the role of batteries having a value chain that is not China-centric but you have some kind of duplication or onshoring happening is very vital to that. I think we play an important role and that is kind of a tailwind for us.

JB: So where do you see North America and your company on that timeline?

SG: I strongly and personally believe that if you want to dominate a market, it has to be technology. The U.S. had the industrial revolution way back and they dominated because they were ahead of everybody else. The IRA is helpful in terms of helping companies in the battery space, but what it is incentivizing is to compete and match China on a technology that's already built up and they have a cost advantage where we are trying to help the industries really disrupt and help them have a value chain for the next step of this evolution, which is the next generation of battery technologies.

JB: Very good. So you're focused more on the evolution and a transition toward more solid state batteries as opposed to lithium-ion. Can I get you to elaborate on the benefits and where you are in that process?

SG: One correction is there is a misbelief that it has to be solid state to be next generation. What a lot of our customers have demonstrated is you can have a liquid or a polymeric electrolyte system, which is still safe and allows metal battery technology to be deployed. What that has done is accelerated the entire adoption by a few years. What they thought was 2030, it now looks more like 2026, 2027 scale up. So it's speeding that up. Now where we are is [analyzing] what you need for the next evolution of these batteries [and] they've optimized the cathode. That is pretty much done in the next couple of years. You'll be at the max optimization that you can do on the cathode side. So to improve the battery further, like you said, you either have to improve the electrolyte or the anode system.

Where we come in is working with those companies which are working on new electrolytes and then supplying them a metal anode that they can deploy with their electrolyte system to really drive the energy density of the battery higher. So our customers are either electric vehicle customers who want higher range. Our batteries, when you use lithium metal, you get about twice the energy density on a weight basis. But because of metal, an entire new market is evolved, which is aviation. So whether it is e-taxis, drones or delivery with drones, all of that needs much higher energy on a volumetric basis because you don't want the battery to be too big. You want your product to be the one which is occupying the space. So given that with lithium metal and next generation batteries, you really are bringing a complete new mode of transportation, which is electrical aviation.

JB: I don't claim to be the expert here, so I'm going to let you go into the weeds with the explanation, but you’re working on replacing lithium foil with lithium anodes and also the components of lithium chloride with lithium carbonate. Can I get you to just kind of explain what that means?

SG: The first step for technology is to replace lithium chloride. Today, if you look at how lithium is produced by a lot of the major miners is they either produce it from a brine or from a rock. In the brine form it's typically as lithium chloride. So you're starting with lithium chloride, but then they, to extract it and purify it, convert it into a lithium carbonate form. To make metal carbonate, the traditional process was you could not convert the carbonate directly into metal. They took that carbonate, converted back to lithium chloride and then did electrolysis and then purification and then converted to metal carbonate. So there were multiple steps and each step you had capital requirements, opex requirements, which made it expensive. For the next generation of batteries to be viable, you really need to drop that cost down substantially. So our step one was: can we go straight from lithium carbonate, which is abundant to metal and then to anodes? To do that we needed to really develop a new technology and that's what we have done over the past four years and patented that technology.

And we are now at a 5-metric ton scale piloting that. Our next step is to take it to a 25 metric ton scale to pilot and demonstrate. Now once that metal is made, you have to make it into a really thin foil. By that I mean anything from 2 µ to 5 µ thick. Your hair, human hair is 100 µ thick. So by that standard you can imagine how thin of a deposit this is. These wrinkle very easily. So you have to take a lot of care and attention to make sure they are pristine. And that is the second step of our technology to produce that in a very low-cost fashion so that we can then compete with graphite anodes and, on a cost basis, reach parity with the existing generation of lithium-ion batteries. Then what happens is cost-wise at the same point, but now you have twice the energy density, so you have two x the range at the same cost.

JB: Very good. And you all are focused with the pilot plant in Rochester, New York.

SG: We are split in two. We are truly a North American company. We have a footprint in Canada and we have a footprint in Rochester. Our metal footprint is in Toronto, Canada and our PVD technology, which is the coating and thin film technology, is based in Rochester. We actually are in the old Kodak facility where they used to do all these depositions and films for photography. So they had all the kinds of infrastructure, dry rooms and everything, available so we could just go in and put our equipment there. So it was very convenient for us to leverage that site.

JB: Very good. Thank you so much for joining us here at CERAWeek. We really appreciate it. To read and watch more, please visit online at