May 17, 2024


Future of energy: Sodium-ion batteries

Future of energy: Sodium-ion batteries
The Northvolt Podcast
Future of energy: Sodium-ion batteries

May 17 2024 | 00:21:28


Show Notes

Sodium-ion is set to accelerate the adoption of energy storage and electrification around the world. In this episode of the Northvolt Podcast, Andreas Haas, Senior Manager of the Sodium-ion Program, tells us all about how sodium-ion is produced, lack of critical metals, and offers insights into the market's future trajectory.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Welcome to the future of energy, where we'll meet the people who are working with the products of tomorrow. In each episode, we'll take you a step further into the world of electrification. From the roads we travel on to the vessels that navigate our oceans and even the skies above, we'll unravel the threads of innovation, weaving together the clean energy future. So fasten your seatbelts as we navigate the future of energy, one conversation at a time. Welcome back to the future of energy. I'm your host, Anna Lee, and in this episode, I'm joined by Andreas Haas. He will bring us into the world of sodium ion batteries and its future. So welcome, Andreas. [00:00:44] Speaker B: Thank you. [00:00:44] Speaker A: Thanks for coming in today. [00:00:45] Speaker B: Thanks for having me. [00:00:46] Speaker A: I'm super excited to talk about this topic. It's something that was announced, and a lot of excitement came with it. And I think that it's now time and fun for us to sit down and talk about it and explain what is sodium ion. [00:01:00] Speaker B: So sodium ion is quite a broad term for a lot of different chemistries, which all have in common that instead of lithium ion, a sodium ion moves between the anode and the cathode in a battery. The interesting thing about sodium is that it's on the periodic table just below lithium ion, so it shares a lot of the same properties. The main difference is that it's just larger. And with this larger, you obviously get some disadvantages, but also some advantages by being more abundant. [00:01:29] Speaker A: And so what's your role in all of this? What are you doing at Norfolk with sodium ion? [00:01:33] Speaker B: So I am heading up the cell development team. We started working on sodium ion a bit more than two years ago. And from the beginning, it was our task to first validate this technology and see its potential. And we're now at a point where we see that it is commercially interesting, and we're bringing it now to first products in the next years. [00:01:54] Speaker A: Yeah. So why now? Why sodium ion now, and why is it important? [00:01:57] Speaker B: I think there are two things that happened which made sodium ion quite attractive right now. The first one is that there were just some scientific breakthroughs in the past, notably that John Goodenough and also the team around sharp lab of America solved quite a lot of the issues of sodium ion batteries in the year 2012. And following that, CTL, for instance, made a big announcement in 2021 where they found a way to commercialize the first battery. But I think the even more important aspect is that just making one battery is quite easy. Making a million batteries per year is quite hard. And for that, you need the supply chain to also be activated. So, with this first interest coming from the scientific world, a lot of other companies in the supply chain were activated and are now reaching a scale where we can think about commercialization. [00:02:44] Speaker A: What does that supply chain look like compared to a lithium ion supply chain? [00:02:48] Speaker B: The two big differences between a sodium ion battery and its supply chain versus a lithium ion battery is that it uses a different anode material and also a different cathode material. On the anode, we commonly use hard carbon, which is unlike graphite, which is very much layered. It's a disorganized material. On the cathode side, there are actually several choices that we can use. The most commonly used material are layered metal oxides using sodium. However, Norfolk is using prussian white, which is not a layered oxide. It's more of a crystal structure. Unlike lead oxide, Prussian wide is free of any critical raw metals, where lead oxides use nickel and other metals that we want to remove from a sodium ion battery for sustainability, but also for cost reasons. [00:03:35] Speaker A: Yeah. So is that a smaller supply chain, then? Because I know that the supply chain for lithium ion batteries, it's a long one. [00:03:43] Speaker B: Exactly. The biggest challenge that we see is obviously to build up the cathode supply chain. What we saw in the last two years is that on the anode side, a lot of existing graphite players are picking apart carbon as a product as well, because it's not too different from it. On the cathode side, however, we are working mainly with completely new players and also not the typical cathode suppliers, but more chemical players, which are sitting on the upstream supply chain. And if you look at the supply chain before we talk about cathode material, we're talking about basic chemicals. So what we have is those big, established chemical giants, which are also now seeing that this is a good opportunity for them to enter the market. [00:04:28] Speaker A: Okay, so they are encouraged by this and want to join that market. [00:04:32] Speaker B: Exactly. And this is also why we are more geographically independent with sodium ion batteries. We're not relying on the same cathode supply chain as we do in lithium ion. It requires those chemical giants to pivot a little bit. But we're not talking, like, materials that are coming from mining. It's the base chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide and sodium carbonate. Ammonia is also in our supply chain somewhere. [00:04:59] Speaker A: Yeah. So you're saying that we could potentially have local supply here in Europe. [00:05:04] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:05:05] Speaker A: Much easier. Like, it's easy to access. [00:05:07] Speaker B: Or is it because you're independent from raw metals that need to be mined, you can build up such an industry basically everywhere. [00:05:14] Speaker A: Okay, so less dependent on other countries with raw materials. [00:05:18] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:05:18] Speaker A: So how can sodium ion contribute to Norfolk making greener batteries? [00:05:23] Speaker B: So, from the beginning, Norfolk decided to focus, develop, and produce only the greenest batteries that we can imagine. And sodium ion fits very nicely into this vision, since it's avoiding any critical battery materials. And also it's using only abundant materials that we find. If you look at what the battery contains, the cathode material, as I mentioned, is fairly sustainable. It has a lower carbon footprint. It doesn't use any critical raw metals. There's very limited amount of mining in it. It's basically using abundant materials that you can trace back to, literally salt and iron. But also, then on the anode side, the big benefit of using hard carbon in comparison to graphite is that you can base it on biowaste. You can take everything from wood to shells of coconut, peanuts whatsoever. [00:06:12] Speaker A: It's amazing. [00:06:13] Speaker B: Everything that you will, that you can carbonize, you can use for hard carbon. That obviously does not only help from a carbon emission perspective, but also from just diversifying the feedstock that is available to you. Graphite, on the other side, is using mainly fossil based precursors. And then on top of it, there's a lot of other elements that make this battery more sustainable, where we're using a water based electrode, for instance, not using any solvents. And also the overall carbon footprint of the total battery is much lower, because at Norfolk, we're already using 100% carbon free energy, but now we're also addressing the raw materials itself. [00:06:51] Speaker A: Yeah. Or can you recycle sodium ion? [00:06:54] Speaker B: You can recycle sodium ion. It's also easier than lithium ion. But the beauty of sodium ion batteries is also that their longevity is much higher than lithium ion batteries. They're much more durable and sturdy, meaning you can use them for much more cycles. Much more years. So the need to recycle is also deferred by quite a bit. [00:07:12] Speaker A: Yeah. Awesome. Okay, so considering that the world is definitely going towards a greener future and greener energy, where do you see sodium ion technologies carving its niche in this market of energy storage? [00:07:25] Speaker B: Yeah, we talked a lot about the benefits of sodium ion batteries so far, but they come with one big disadvantage, which is that there's an inherently lower energy density to sodium ion batteries, no matter which exact chemistry you choose. And that's just simply because the sodium ion is just larger and can request, therefore, more volume and weight in the battery. However, the benefits are quite well applicable or have a quite good product market fit in the stationary energy storage business, as well as in the more affordable mobility segments. We're talking class a, class b electric vehicles, where, you know, you don't need over 500 range in a car. Right. And this is also one of the trends that we're seeing right now is there was a lot of range anxiety in the past, but now consumers became comfortable with the range that they're being offered and are seeking for more affordable options. And this is exactly the niche where we see sodium ion. And that's also why sodium ion fits so well into Norfolk's product portfolio, because we have lithium ion for the vast set of applications within mobility. We have lithium metal for the very high performance needs. And then we're having sodium ion for the stationary applications, as well as for in the future, more the affordable car segments. [00:08:42] Speaker A: Okay, so there is signs of sodium ion batteries being able to make it 500. [00:08:49] Speaker B: Don't know, about 500 km. We will see that. [00:08:51] Speaker A: I'm talking future. Like future future, not soon. [00:08:56] Speaker B: It still needs to be proven. I don't want to promise too much, but I also want to point out that we're talking about a first generation product. For us, the important thing is to not sit on this technology and try to make it perfect, but more make it accessible to the market. Especially because, as I mentioned before, especially the supply chain is the most critical part. [00:09:14] Speaker A: Yeah. No, because what I was thinking about, and what I need to remind people is that lithium ion was at a completely different stage 1520 years ago. People also need to be reminded that, yes, sodium ion has now been announced, but that doesn't mean that it's going to be in a car tomorrow. [00:09:28] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:09:28] Speaker A: It's something that needs to be developed and on top of that, new chemistries. And then eventually, maybe in the future, like you said, you don't want to promise it could be in a car. Are there any specific industries or sectors that you think will benefit, or even looking into sodium ion right now? [00:09:43] Speaker B: I think the easy answer here is that everyone who is currently looking into iron phosphate batteries is also looking at sodium ion as a potential alternative to it, which is produced locally. As I mentioned in the beginning, we're focusing on the energy storage business, especially the utility scale part of it, which is where we usually see those 20 foot containers being placed next to energy farms and wind parks and substations. But obviously, there are also other applications where currently the energy density, especially the gravimetric energy density, is not that strong of a criteria, such as in material handling. Forklifts use batteries as a counterweight for instance. And then obviously everything else that is lighter and is moving, such as, you know, two wheelers, three wheelers, all of that is a very interesting market for sodium ion solutions. [00:10:32] Speaker A: What's the difference in weight between a sodium ion cell and a lithium ion cell? [00:10:37] Speaker B: In comparison to the nickel based chemistries that Norfolk is, for instance, producing in khaleftio? We're looking at around a 40% decrease. However, in comparison to LFP, we're basically on par with it. [00:10:50] Speaker A: Maybe like explain what LFP is. [00:10:52] Speaker B: LFP is short for the iron phosphate batteries that I mentioned before. Most of the cathode production of iron phosphate batteries is currently coming from China. In fact, it should be more than 99%. And this is also the. Our direct competitor with our sodium ion technology. We're trying to position it directly as more sustainable, more affordable, and also more localized alternative to the LFP based batteries coming from China. [00:11:15] Speaker A: Right, I see. But the energy density between an LFP and a sodium ion, what is that? [00:11:20] Speaker B: With the first generation, we're already very close to being on par. Our first generation will reach 160 watt hours per kilogram. LFP is currently somewhere between 160 to 190, with some doped versions even reaching 200. But for the markets that we are targeting, which are where you need a lot of cycles, you usually tend to have lower energy density as well. [00:11:43] Speaker A: So the LFP batteries then now are being used for more storage solutions, right? [00:11:48] Speaker B: Exactly. Mainly for storage. It was also introduced to electric mobility in the last years. For instance, there's a Tesla model three that is using LFP batteries, the standard version. Those are short of 170 watt hours per kilogram. So we're not too far off with our 160 to enter into the mobility segment. But energy density is not the only reason why we're why we decided to first go with the stationary energy storage business. It's also because we already have a foot in the energy storage business, and we can basically offer our customers a plug and play version there. Just having a battery doesn't really have any use case. You need a system around it, you need a BMS around it, etcetera. But we don't make cars. So what we decided to do is we want to not offer a single sodium ion battery. We want to offer a fully containerized solutions around this sodium ion battery, which can then be used by customers in the same way as they already use existing solutions. [00:12:46] Speaker A: Yeah, so like you said, just plug and play into. Exactly, yeah, because it's very expensive for customers to then have to redo a whole new system just to be able to work around a new cell. [00:12:56] Speaker B: Exactly. And it's not like, I mean, so the batteries behave similarly to lithium ion batteries, but voltage curves, et cetera, are still different and need to be adjusted. And obviously, that is tied to an investment. And we want to make it very easy for our customers to get accustomed and also comfortable with this new technology, which is obviously the big next step, getting the confidence of our customers in this new technology. [00:13:21] Speaker A: So people are considering the shift to sodium ion technology. What unique features make sodium ion a compelling choice? [00:13:28] Speaker B: So, if you are in the energy storage system business at the moment, the benefit of a sodium ions based solution already from the very first generation is, besides, as we mentioned, a better sustainability profile and a cost advantage versus lfp. Although here we need to point out that the lfp prices are fluctuating quite a lot, so we're comparing against a moving target. Nevertheless, the big benefit that we want to offer to our customer with the sodium ion batteries is to detach from that fluctuation. Because we're not tied to raw material prices, the prices should be much more stable. In addition to that, with our crystallized cathode material, we're also seeing that it's just more stable and sturdy. Overall, we're seeing a much better safety profile in comparison to lithium ion. We have the benefit with sodium ion that we don't have any oxygen in the cathode material. No oxygen means there is no direct fuel for flames. And it also means that in most of the safety testing, we didn't see direct flames up to 300 degrees celsius. That translates into a leaner product at the end, where we don't need to spend that much money on additional safety measurements. [00:14:37] Speaker A: So does that mean that storage systems could be in all kinds of different weather as well? [00:14:44] Speaker B: Exactly. We think that, or we see that the sodium mine technology, especially within the stationary energy storage market, is a global technology that is allowing it to be present in all parts of the world, no matter how, how warm or cold it is. We also have the benefit of having a much better performance in a much wider temperature window, which is one of the key disadvantages that we see with the iron phosphate based batteries. They don't perform very well at cold temperatures, and most lithium ion batteries don't perform that well in high temperatures. [00:15:15] Speaker A: Yeah, north of Sweden. That would be fantastic. [00:15:19] Speaker B: Yes, no cold or out in the desert. No cold cranking in fleftio. [00:15:24] Speaker A: But that also goes back to another question I have, is that how do you think that this technology, and let's say future energy storage systems could help with the global effort to make more sustainable energy for countries with limited resources. [00:15:39] Speaker B: Since we are geographically independent of critical raw metals with sodium ion, we're seeing this as the technology for enabling a worldwide transition. We're trying to offer sodium ion to all parts of the world. And also what we're trying to do is we're trying to enable others to have their own batteries supply to make their own transition. With sodium ion batteries, it should not be limited to the parts of the world where we have the raw materials available. And the beauty of sodium ion batteries is also that they are easier to produce overall, meaning the requirements that you have on building up your own gigafactories are lower. And that's what we want to do here at Norfolk. We don't want to just use sodium ion batteries to make our own factories. We actually want to enable others to use this technology, to use this blueprint to build their own gigafactories in parts of the world where we are currently present. Because this is like a multiplier for the electrification that we're seeing. [00:16:37] Speaker A: So locally produced products. [00:16:39] Speaker B: Exactly. In all parts of the world. [00:16:41] Speaker A: So that would then enable them to transition to a more greener energy locally in a country or a community or whatever it could be. [00:16:50] Speaker B: Right, exactly. [00:16:51] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:16:53] Speaker B: To put it simply, it's a very robust chemistry, and we're trying to keep it that way so that it's both in production and usage of those batteries. It's very easy to handle, and like. [00:17:06] Speaker A: You said, that can be replicated very easily. [00:17:09] Speaker B: Exactly, yeah. [00:17:10] Speaker A: Okay, I want to go into the last question, and this one's quite broad, so answer it the way that you want. No pressure, but what innovations do you think will be happening in the next ten years within sodium ion? [00:17:24] Speaker B: That's a very good question. So in my opinion, sodium ion batteries should see a bit of a different path than lithium ion batteries as we have it right now. I really hope that in the future, sodium ion batteries are taking a bit more inspiration from the fast moving consumer goods industry, for instance, where the production and availability of those batteries, as well as also how we're going to use them, how we're going to recycle them, is very close to everyday consumer products. And the reason we're able to do that is because it is just safer and more robust, and it is easier to maintain. One very good aspect that we haven't talked about is that you can discharge sodium ion batteries to zero volt almost, and with that you can safely transport them. Those are all those small elements which enable this technology to not be this dangerous good that we're seeing with lithium ion batteries and also where the production of those goods is limited to a few high tech companies. [00:18:22] Speaker A: Yeah. Because when you're shipping products like phones and computers, there's always that warning label of the lithium ion batteries. [00:18:28] Speaker B: This might still be the case with sodium ion batteries. [00:18:30] Speaker A: Okay. But it's because they are charged. I mean, they're not to zero because that's not possible. If you then get. [00:18:37] Speaker B: We're going into the regulation of sodium ion batteries, which is a bit of an interesting field right now since this. [00:18:43] Speaker A: But when you mean everyday consumer products, then you mean, you know, computers, it could be, I don't know, an electric scooter. [00:18:50] Speaker B: I mean, things like that. I mean that the production and usage is more like toothpaste or shampoo. [00:18:55] Speaker A: Oh. [00:18:55] Speaker B: So the way we produce batteries right now is absolutely a high tech product. [00:19:02] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:19:02] Speaker B: With sodium ion batteries, I really hope that we're making this more local and also we're making it the entire. [00:19:09] Speaker A: Like cereal. [00:19:10] Speaker B: Yeah, like cereal, exactly. Yeah. You know, the coating process where we apply the active material on a foil? It's more like sandwich ice cream. [00:19:18] Speaker A: Mmm. Okay. Okay. So an ice cream sandwich, that's where we want to be. [00:19:23] Speaker B: We want to have an ice cream sandwich that charges devices. Exactly. [00:19:29] Speaker A: So then also have different kinds of sodium ion batteries that go into different products. [00:19:33] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:19:34] Speaker A: Yeah. But does that also mean because the way you said that it was produced as well, that that also goes into just everyday consumer products as well that need. [00:19:41] Speaker B: It can definitely. Yes, exactly. Here. You know, the reason we're going into the energy storage market or the automotive market first is also because we need to justify the investment costs that we're seeing into bringing this to the market in general. So we need a big market. Right. Consumer goods is a big market, but it's very much subsegmented in a lot of different parts, different shapes, different forms, different applications, then this is something that will definitely follow. [00:20:06] Speaker A: But that would also break the dependence on other countries for getting those consumer batteries. [00:20:11] Speaker B: There's no reason why this cannot end up in any consumer good. [00:20:14] Speaker A: Right. [00:20:15] Speaker B: And locally and locally, if you are in South America, if you're in Africa, if you're wherever you can produce your own batteries for your own devices, you're not tied to the manufacturing assets of other parts of the world. And we're not only talking about the one factor, we're talking about the entire supply chain. [00:20:32] Speaker A: Oh, yeah. [00:20:32] Speaker B: The thing that you need is iron, salt, and somewhere in between, you need to make ammonia, which is the most common fertilizer. [00:20:41] Speaker A: You most likely have most of that, or whatever. [00:20:44] Speaker B: Get some wood for the anode material, and there you have it. It's a very accessible technology, and we want to keep it that way. [00:20:51] Speaker A: Sounds like a beautiful future. [00:20:52] Speaker B: It has to be. If we're not making electrification accessible and easy, then we're not doing exactly. We're not doing our job here. [00:21:01] Speaker A: Thank you so much for coming in, Andreas. This was a really nice talk, and I really enjoyed learning more about sodium ion. Is there anything else you would like to add? [00:21:08] Speaker B: No, I think I'm happy. Thank you so much for having me today. [00:21:11] Speaker A: You're happy, and then I'm happy. Perfect. Thank you guys, for listening, and I hope you join me in the next one.

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