More EV Batteries from the Same Ton of Rock: Talon Metals and Argonne National Laboratory Are Developing a Novel Process to Supply Minerals for Two Battery Chemistries from the Same Raw Material

Posted by Todd Malan, Chief External Affairs Officer and Head of Climate Strategy, Talon Metals

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory published an article that highlighted its groundbreaking partnership with Talon Metals to develop a new process that could dramatically increase the number of batteries produced from high-grade nickel ore refined at Talon’s Battery Mineral Processing Facility (BMPF) in Mercer County, North Dakota.  The BMPF is capable of processing nickel ore from Talon’s proposed underground mine in central Minnesota and other nickel mines in the US and Canada.  

The Talon team decided to go a bit deeper on this topic in our first post on Talon’s blog #WeCanDoThis.

Developed over the last year under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), this new method separates iron compounds from what would normally be discarded as a waste product in the process of refining and concentrating high-grade ores that contain nickel and copper. Argonne and Talon’s innovation has the potential to be a game-changer for the mining industry and help the U.S. compete with China in mineral supply manufacturing batteries for EVs and long duration storage.

Talon is focused on developing high-grade nickel/copper/iron deposits in the Lake Superior region’s mid-continental rift to supply raw materials to the lithium-ion battery manufacturing industry in North America. The U.S. currently has only one operating nickel mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and relies on over 56% of its nickel supply from foreign countries such as Russia, China and Indonesia.

Talon geologists log core samples of high-grade nickel-copper-iron mineralization from the Tamarack Project in central Minnesota.


Talon’s drilling program at the Tamarack Nickel Project in central Minnesota has led to the discovery of high-grade nickel and copper deposits almost 1,500 feet (about 457.2 meters) underground in the ancient plumbing of a volcano that has been worn down over millions of years.

While nickel and copper are the primary focus of the project, the ore also contains valuable “by-product” minerals, such as cobalt and palladium, that “ride along” in the same geologic formations. Talon’s team is committed to making sure that such by-products can be recovered instead of going to waste, as is often the practice in legacy mineral processing.

One of the most prevalent but often overlooked by-products seen in the region’s nickel sulfide ore are iron compounds (different than iron ore, which North Minnesota has a proud history of extracting dating back to World War II). In fact, nickel concentrates produced from this type of  ore contain about four times more iron compounds than nickel. Although hundreds of millions of tons of iron ore are produced annually, it is not used as a feedstock for batteries due to its large number of impurities and slow rate of processing.

The Talon team realized that if they could figure out a way to access these iron compounds, they would not only be able to supply nickel for nickel-based battery technologies, such as nickel manganese cobalt batteries. They could also supply the iron needed to make lithium iron phosphate batteries (called LFP batteries – F being the letter representing iron in the periodic table). At the same time, the process would significantly reduce Talon’s production of mining waste.

​​“We want to take a ‘full value mining’ approach to any mining that Talon conducts,” said Henri van Rooyen, CEO of Talon. “That’s why we turned to Argonne to help us find a way to unlock value of the whole rock.” He continued, “Legacy mineral processing naturally prioritizes the nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and the platinum group elements in the rock, and often sends everything else to waste piles, failing to realize its inherent value. Our team saw that as a problem and an opportunity. We realize that if society allows the mining industry to extract minerals from the earth, they have every right to expect us to extract all the valuable elements that are useful to society. A ’full value’ approach to mineral processing can mean more minerals produced or higher ’mineral yield’ from the same amount of mining activity. Higher mineral yields mean less disturbance of the earth for additional mining.”


In the coming months, researchers at Argonne’s Materials Engineering Research Facility will work with Talon’s processing experts to develop, optimize, and implement a synthesis process for iron sulfides that can produce iron phosphate used directly for LFP battery cathodes (positive electrodes). These cathodes will initially be tested in coin battery cells, similar to those used in watches, hearing aids, and other small electronics as proof of concept. The team’s long-term objective is to make commercial-quality cathodes for LFP batteries used for EVs and energy storage for the electrical grid.

As the U.S. moves to transition towards electric vehicles, LFPs are poised to serve a unique, growing market and could present a strong new income stream for Talon. In 2023, the global LFP market was valued at $15.6 billion, and it is currently projected to reach over $50 billion by 2030.

“Some people think LFP batteries are in competition with nickel batteries. But we need them both for different types of users and to accomplish a transition to EVs over fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. LFP for short range, city cars and lower cost vehicles; nickel for trucks, high-performance and long-duration storage,” said Ben Steinberg, Executive Vice President of the Battery Materials & Technology Coalition.


Steinberg continued, “While the U.S. is trying to catch-up to China in manufacturing LFP batteries, we have a limited pipeline for the raw ingredients required for them. Today, you would have to import the cathode material from China, even if you were making the battery packs in America. Talon and Argonne are working to change that.”

A cost-effective and environmentally responsible alternative to Chinese-produced cathode material is essential in order to ramp up manufacturing of LFP batteries domestically. Presently, almost all LFP batteries are produced in China using iron sulfates recovered from titanium slag (waste). These sulfates contain large amounts of impurities and require up to 30 metric tons of water to produce just 1 metric ton of LFP material. This technique also results in substantial pollution, as impurities are discarded into the surrounding environment. Conversely, the synthesis method being developed by Talon and Argonne would improve efficiency and leave a smaller footprint, with the distinct possibility of producing a product that could outperform cathodes manufactured through conventional processes.

China (green in this chart) dominates the production of raw materials for both the leading battery chemistries—lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP).

“Because the iron compound we’re using is a by-product of nickel production, it has impurities such as nickel and manganese,” said Argonne Materials Scientist Donghyeon Kang. “These impurities could enhance the cathode’s performance. Battery manufacturers often intentionally introduce small amounts of metal impurities into cathode materials—a process known as doping—to enhance their performance.”

Talon’s van Rooyen concluded, “What is so remarkable about the Argonne approach is its potential to massively increase the ratio of kilowatt-hours of battery from each ton of rock extracted from the earth. Imagine if we can supply the basic ingredients for two battery technologies from the same rocks to produce four times the amount of energy storage from the same ton of rock. Less waste, lower cost, higher revenue, less disturbance of the earth; this is the type of disruptive approach that makes American research institutions like Argonne the envy of the world.”