Sodium ion charge batteries are gaining traction as a viable replacement for lithium-ion technology. Following the acquisition of UK-based sodium-ion specialist Faradion, industrial behemoths CATL and Reliance Industries are determined to bring the technology out of the lab and into mass production.
Against the backdrop of soaring lithium-ion battery material prices and predicted shortages, sodium ion charge technology has never been more enticing.
Sodium ion charge (Na-ion) batteries outperform lithium-ion batteries in terms of environmental credentials, safety, and raw material costs (Li-ion). Furthermore, sodium ion charge batteries promise high performance, and continuous improvements in density and cycle rate make the chemistry particularly appealing.
“Sodium ion charge technology is still in its infancy, but it represents a viable alternative to Li-ion technologies, depending on how far companies are willing to invest,” says Max Reid, Wood Mackenzie research analyst. Furthermore, alternative battery technologies that use fewer or no critical raw materials may alleviate the growing strain on Li-ion supply chains.
Sodium is a thousand times more abundant than lithium and has an almost infinite supply, with far lower overall extraction and purification costs. Sodium ion charge cells are said to be 20% to 40% cheaper than lithium-ion charge cells, but bringing the technology to scale is a challenge.
“In the short term, the cost of producing Na-ion will be high as producers aim for scaled production in the mid-2020s,” Reid says. “At this time, demand for batteries in the EV sector will increase from 0.6TWh in 2022 to 2.8TWh by 2030, a boom that will come too soon for the Na-ion market.”
According to WoodMac, sodium ion charge batteries are expected to replace some of the LFP share in passenger EVs and energy storage, with a base-case scenario of 20GWh by 2030.
“We expect Na-ion technology to eat into Li-dominant ion’s market share – but there are many unknowns that must be addressed before the technology can follow Li-skyward ion’s trajectory,” Reid says. The cost of battery materials will clearly have an impact on the outcome. If the price of lithium continues to rise, the sodium ion charge cell may become more appealing and gain a larger market share more quickly.
Production must also progress beyond its infancy, which Na-ion appears to be doing with the help of industrial heavyweights pouring in resources and manufacturing experience.
Sodium ion charge batteries giga factories
On the last day of 2021, Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries announced that its solar unit would purchase Faradion, a UK-based pioneer in Sodium ion charge battery technology, for GBP 100 million ($136 million), including debt. The acquisition was Reliance’s sixth in the renewable energy sector. It was part of a $10 billion plan to manufacture and fully integrate all “critical components of the New Energy ecosystem,” including the solar supply chain, batteries, electrolysers, and fuel cells.
According to the plan, the conglomerate will construct several gigafactories in India by 2024, covering everything from textiles and polyester fibres to petrochemicals and petroleum refining. In terms of Na-ion manufacturing ambitions, Faradion CEO James Quinn told pv magazine that the company intends to build a factory with a capacity of tens of gigatonnes.
“I think it’s clear that Reliance is going all in on sodium ion charge technology and building giga factories.” And this is what the technology requires in order to scale,” he explained. “You need around 2,500 tons of cathode to make 1GW of cells, so the scale to go up to 10GW to 20GW is massive.”
When it comes to production volume, Li-ion has had a decades-long head start, lowering costs as it scaled. Quinn, on the other hand, believes that with Reliance and Faradion under the same roof, there is a unique opportunity to continue to innovate and advance the technology while also scaling it massively.
“Their captive requirement is so massive that it can significantly reduce the cost,” Quinn says. Reliance could have tens of gigatonnes of captive requirements – it owns the world’s largest telecom company with 450 million subscribers and has 22,000 trucks, to name a few.
Furthermore, the company intends to build at least 100GW of solar projects by 2030, which it may decide to pair with batteries. “I think it’s the best chance for sodium ion to really break through,” Quinn says.
Faradion was the first company to champion Sodium ion charge battery technology more than ten years ago, with virtually no competition at the time. “We were really early on,” Quinn says, “so we put a web of IP around sodium ion charge.” However, interest has grown, and several companies have emerged since.
HiNa Battery Technology (a spinoff from the Chinese Academy of Sciences), Tiamat (from the French National Centre for Scientific Research), Natron Energy (from Stanford University in the United States), Altris AB (founded by a team from Sweden’s Uppsala University), and, of course, China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) – the industry’s 800-pound gorilla.
The new generation of sodium ion charge batteries
CATL plans to launch its first generation of Sodium ion charge batteries in mid-2021, with a basic industrial chain in place by 2023.
The Chinese battery manufacturer stated at the launch that it has spent many years researching and developing sodium ion charge battery electrode materials. It claims that its first generation of sodium-ion charge cells can achieve energy densities of up to 160Wh/kg and that it is now aiming for densities greater than 200Wh/kg.
CATL is said to have filed a patent for a “Na metal battery, electrochemical device” in which the metal layer formed on the negative current collector after the first charging is finished is used in place of the negative electrode.
The absence of the anode during the manufacturing process, and its creation after the battery has been assembled and charged for the first time, would be a distinct advantage. CATL appears to have not only laid out relevant material design patents, but has also taken the lead in applying for production process patents, indicating that research progress on this technology may be advanced.
Meanwhile, Faradion claims to have achieved a significant increase in energy density through cumulative iterative improvements on its cathode, anode, and electrolyte, and has demonstrated a capacity of 190Wh/kg, which is now being put into production.
Furthermore, the company is working on game-changing innovations and, as Quinn confirmed, expects to push energy density to 250Wh/kg. That would put it on par with most Li-ion batteries on the market today.
Ultimately, sodium ion charge batteries will be a complement to Li-ion technology rather than a competitor. In terms of structure and operating principles, the two battery technologies have a lot in common, and they can often use the same manufacturing lines and equipment. As a result, CATL is simply incorporating its sodium-ion offering into its existing Li-ion infrastructure and product ecosystem.
“We have rolled out our AB battery system solution, which uses both sodium and lithium-based cells in one EV pack, thus leveraging the benefits of both chemistries and opening up more room for application scenarios for sodium-lithium battery systems,” said a CATL spokesperson.
The system compensates for the Na-ion cells’ current energy density shortage and benefits from their low-temperature performance. “You never put LFP in the same battery pack as NMC, you don’t really gain anything,” said Quinn of Faradion, “but if you do this with Na-ion, it works like a supercapacitor.”
Source: PV Magazine