Materials supplier Inoac USA Inc. is expanding its foam products for electric vehicle batteries in North America following recent EV-related legislation in the U.S. that's spurred battery production across the continent.
With "exponential growth" in EV-related announcements from automakers, Inoac has "invested heavily" in foams meant to protect and secure EV batteries, Brad Harris, director of new business development at Inoac Interior Systems, said.
"We see daily, OEMs and battery manufacturers making announcements, bringing manufacturing plants to not only the United States, but also Mexico and Canada," Harris told Plastics News in an interview.
That helped Inoac see the "importance of getting that focus" to the region, he said.
"We're positioned right now in all three of those countries with manufacturing footprints. It [was] a natural growth for us to expand and focus on this region," Harris said.
Foam materials are essential in EV batteries as flame retardants and separators, keeping battery cells from colliding and used as seals to protect components from moisture, dust and other contaminants.
EV batteries expand and contract during recharging and discharging, which can shorten the life of the battery and lead to thermal runaway.
"The beauty of these foam materials is they serve a function that is key to batteries [operating] in a durable, safe fashion," Harris said. "They're lightweight, they offer compressibility. And that expansion, an EV battery goes through that cycle very regularly."
Inoac's flame-retardant foam materials can help control the battery's surface pressure without comprising the shape and fit of the cells.
"These types of foam materials become ideal, in our opinion, for solutions, not only for the control of that expansion contraction event, [but also] sealing the battery module to the body … to hold that whole battery assembly to the vehicle."
Foams also reduce vibration in EV batteries, Harris said, which is important "as these batteries have to last hundreds of thousands of miles."
For the last several years, Inoac was focused on developing EV-specialized materials in Asia, including foam products for batteries, Harris said.
"Most of these materials that we're bringing to [the North American] market now … have been under development and being commercialized for at least 10 years," he said.
The broadening EV market presents a real opportunity for the company's existing portfolio.
Some materials Inoac has used in the heavy equipment industry are also "translating very well in the EV space."
North American EV battery manufacturing "is very much kind of the wide-open market right now, compared to more of the conventional business that we're in," Harris said. "There is nothing I can think back through my career that comes anywhere near this … exponential type of growth around EVs. … Definitely some unique and fast-moving times in front of us."
Inoac expects to expand its sales and marketing team as it scales to work with OEMs that are bringing battery manufacturing to the North American market.
"Our first phase of that is to engage with the customers here to ensure that specifications are appropriately understood," Harris said.
Inoac is currently working with two North American start-up companies, which Harris declined to name, to understand their needs "compared to some of the more conventional OEMs. … We are in development for several new lines of material based upon some initial feedback."
"We believe our materials will fit … all different applications [of] battery styles, like the pouch, the cylindrical [and] the prismatic," he said. "We've got something to offer all of those battery customers."
Inoac also "saw the benefit" of its supply chain agreements during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris added. "With the depth of our supply chain, it's a matter of weeks, not months as we move materials globally."
Inoac's foam products for EV batteries include Poron and Celldamper polyurethane foams; NanNex, a high-expansion silicone; Gomspor, an ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber; and Transcool, available as either a silicone or acrylic material.