Scientists from the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) and Pelchem (the fluorochemical subsidiary of Necsa), have developed a lower cost method to produce high purity phosphorus pentafluoride (PF5) which is used to manufacture lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), the electrolyte used in most lithium-ion batteries. The work was done as part of a doctoral thesis at the University of Pretoria and a patent has been filed for the new process.
The current commercial processes to produce PF5 either uses high cost raw materials or produce undesirable waste products. The new process uses low cost starting materials whereby the PF5 can be produced in high purity. Pelchem is preparing a technology package.
A growing market for lithium-ion batteries is to power electrical vehicles and significant interest in bulk energy storage systems. The global market for lithium-ion batteries was $11 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to $35 billion by 2020.