Two of the world’s biggest industrial companies are preparing for a high-stakes court battle over an arcane battery chemistry, and the outcome could have important implications for next-gen EVs, according to Quartz.
Chemical colossus BASF and the Argonne National Laboratory have filed a lawsuit against Belgian battery-maker Umicore, accusing it of selling a battery component to which BASF holds an exclusive license.
The case centers around two competing patents for the cathode material nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC). The first was filed in 2000 by Argonne researcher Michael Thackeray. A few months later, 3M filed a competing patent on behalf of researcher Jeff Dahn of Dalhousie University.
In the current suit, BASF claims that Umicore sold Japanese toolmaker Makita cathodes containing NMC invented by Argonne, which neither Umicore nor Makita have licenses for.
The two sides disagree about the precise atomic structure of the NMC in question, with Thackeray calling his formulation a “layered-layered” or “composite” cathode, and Dahn referring to his version as a “solid solution.”
The distinction, which sounds more like a question for chemists than for lawyers, is apparently central to the case, and big dollars may be at stake. NMC is used in the Chevy Volt’s battery pack, and both Argonne and Dahn claim that it is their version. NMC may also be a key material in the new and improved batteries used in the next generation of 200-mile EVs.
“BASF has lost out on billions of dollars of potential revenue from selling [NMC] materials because of Umicore’s misrepresentations to major purchasers in the [NMC] materials market,” BASF and Argonne claim. “In addition, BASF has lost the ability to compete as a supplier for electric vehicle platforms expected to launch in 2016 and 2017.”