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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Wildcat Shifting from R&D to Battery Production

ENERGY: New Manufacturing Plant in Southeast U.S. Planned

SAN DIEGO – Wildcat Discovery Technologies has received its 100th patent since forming just 18 years ago, but the San Diego company is celebrating more than just reaching triple digits.

“It’s for a new cathode technology that we’re very fond of,” said CEO Mark Gresser. “It ironically turned out to be our 100th patent, but it’s probably our most important patent as well.”

The patent protects the company’s development of cathode with disordered rocksalt materials (DRX) and its method of forming the cathode, a major component in batteries.

While the public likely is more familiar with lithium, cobalt and nickel batteries, the new DRX cathode could be a game-changer in electric vehicles, energy storage and other uses because it is smaller, holds 20% more energy and is more environmentally sustainable than other cathode material extracted through mining.

The Wildcat Discovery Technologies technicians are shown working in glove boxes that create a sterile environment. Photo courtesy of Wildcat Discovery Technologies

Manufacturing Plant on Horizon

Wildcat Discovery Technologies has been focused on the research and development of battery technology since the company was founded in 2006 with just 10 employees, but the latest patent is significant enough to call for a major shift.

“Because of that patent, we realized that the next step for us was getting that product in the marketplace,” Gresser said about the company’s plans to open a 350,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in the Southeast within the next few years.

The company is in the design phase of the plant, which could be in operation in late 2026. Gresser said the company is eyeing the Southeast because electricity costs are lower there, and an announcement about its location may come in August followed by groundbreaking next year.

The plant will employ 140 people, more than doubling its current staff of 130, and the company has just launched a campaign to raise $350 million. Up to half of the amount could come from a federal Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains grant, Gresser said.

BMW already is interested in the battery and is in partnership with Wildcat, and other major investors include Koch Industries, Eastman Kodak and the Los Angeles-based investment firm Fifth Wall, which is active in clean energy development.

Production of the DRX batteries won’t start until 2028, and they could begin appearing in electric vehicles two years later.

The company plans to first produce lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries at the plant in 2026 followed by lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP) batteries in 2027.

Mark Gresser, CEO of Wildcat Discovery Technologies, holds a pouch cell battery the company creates, tests and uses for demonstrations to clients. Photo courtesy of Wildcat Discovery Technologies

More Sustainable Solution

Because of an increasing demand for nickel-free cathode materials produced in North America, the production of LFP and LMFP batteries also will be significant for the industry, Gresser said.

The U.S. backed out of the LFP market around 2010 because auto companies were not interested in them. At the time, a lithium battery’s range in an electric vehicle was about 40 or 50 miles, he said.

Lithium is considered safer and more stable than other cathodes, and China began producing lithium batteries for buses. The technology improved, and the range of the batteries grew significantly. Gresser said he has seen a press release from a Chinese company that boasted of vehicles with LFP batteries having a range of 350 miles.

More than 95% of the global LFP supply now comes from China, and Gresser said the new Wildcat plant will boost the domestic production of the battery.

It also could have a long-term positive effect on the environment by decreasing the use of nickel and cobalt batteries.

“Nickel is hard to come by,” Gresser said. “You need to mine it. It’s expensive. It’s mined in Indonesia and processed in China. In addition, the CO2 created when you mine and process these high-nickel products is substantial.”

Cobalt has its own problems, he said, explaining that the material is extracted in Africa throughout mining “in a sort of unsavory fashion.”

After electric vehicles, grid storage of electricity is the second largest market Wildcat is pursuing.

“The market for batteries that store energy is growing and it’s going to be massive,” Gresser said about the need for green energy such as windmills and solar panels to store energy when its produced at peak hours.

DRX batteries could be ideal for the market because they store more energy and take up less space, and they also will be more stable and safer than ones already in use.

The company’s new effort toward production does not mean it is abandoning R&D. Gresser said the company will pursue new technology to customize the energy’s use for its clients, and it already has 60 more applications for patents pending.

Wildcat Discovery Technologies
FOUNDED: 2006
CEO: Mark Gresser
HEADQUARTERS: Sorrento Valley
BUSINESS: Battery technology
EMPLOYEES: 130
CONTACT: 858-550-1980
WEBSITE: www.wildcatdiscovery.com
SOCIAL IMPACT: The company’s technology could make the U.S. less reliant on Chinese imports for battery components.
NOTABLE: Wildcat’s staff includes 30 scientists with doctorate degrees.

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