Swedish battery manufacturer, Northvolt, has announced a move into sodium-ion technology. The company has announced it has validated a sodium-ion battery with an energy density of 160Wh/kg developed with its research partner Altris. It indicated the technology will be used for battery energy storage systems (BESS) rather than electric vehicles. Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder of Northvolt estimated that in ten years’ time the order book for the technology could equal or exceed the size of its automotive orders that currently stand at circa USD55 billion. The progressive battery chemistry does not use lithium, nickel, cobalt or graphite, allowing Northvolt to have a more Eurocentric supply chain, reducing dependence on China. Instead, the batteries will use a hard carbon anode and a Prussian White-based cathode.
The Use of Sodium-ion in Energy Storage
Sodium-ion offers a cost-effective alternative to lithium-ion technology. Apart from substituting lithium with more abundant sodium, this cell chemistry eliminates the need for expensive copper current collectors, as aluminum can serve for both positive and negative electrodes.
However, the success of sodium-ion in energy storage hinges on the chemistries it will compete against. Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) chemistries currently dominate the energy storage market, making up over 75% of installed BESS capacity YTD. Within China, battery producers such as CATL currently focus on LFP for energy storage. LFP prices are currently low and have well established supply chains which may erode the ability of sodium-ion technology to successfully enter the market.
An area where sodium ion has an edge compared to LFP is on temperature. It has a wide operational temperature range, giving safety and stability at high temperatures whilst also retaining function at low temperatures. This can allow energy storage to be installed in remote or colder environments potentially removing the need for temperature control within the energy storage units.
A Breakthrough for Energy Storage Battery Chemistry
This makes Northvolt one of the first non-Chinese players to have a sodium-ion product validated for energy storage. Currently, Natron Energy in the US is the only other player to use sodium-ion technology in BESS, however it has a low energy density (20-30Wh/kg) with limited uses.
Additionally, the use of a Prussian White-based cathode, a type of Prussian Blue Analogue (PBA), would be the first commercialisation of this technology in a sodium-ion cell. PBAs are thought of as a better cathode material option for sodium-ion than the conventionally used layered oxides. They do not contain key metals such as nickel, cobalt or manganese, only containing iron, sodium, carbon and nitrogen. This makes them potentially cheaper to manufacture, as well as giving it greater structural stability. Additionally, it improves the safety of the battery and extends the life cycle. These are two crucial properties when considering a battery for energy storage.
The Sodium-ion Market
The sodium-ion market has progressed further in China than elsewhere, with multiple Chinese players either offering sodium-ion products or in the final stages of testing. The market was ignited as lithium carbonate prices increased at the end of 2021 and remained high throughout 2022. This led to renewed research into alternative cheaper battery chemistries such as sodium-ion.
Leading players within the Sodium-ion space include Hi-Na, CATL and Farasis. Hi-Na has deployed its sodium-ion technology into a megawatt-hour level BESS, as well as completing on-vehicle testing. CATL produces a sodium-ion LFP hybrid for an EV and is conducting research into sodium-ion BESS. Additionally, Farasis has completed on-vehicle testing for its sodium ion battery.
Northvolt is among a handful of players leading the way for a European grown battery industry, with first shipments from its Ett Plant in 2022. It has also established itself as an energy storage integrator, with a facility in Poland expected to start production by the end of 2023. Considering Northvolt’s position it is well set to expand a sodium-ion cell business, being able to supply a fully integrated energy storage solution, as well as supply cells to other integrators.
Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder of Northvolt, comments: “The world has put high hopes on sodium-ion, and I’m very pleased to say that we’ve developed a technology that will enable its widespread deployment to accelerate the energy transition. It’s an important milestone for Northvolt’s market proposition, but battery technology like this is also crucial to reach global sustainability goals, by making electrification more cost-efficient, sustainable and accessible worldwide.”
The potential for this technology is huge…
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