Northvolt makes sodium-ion battery breakthrough

But energy storage is set to the initial beneficiary and even then in the medium term

Northvolt makes sodium-ion battery breakthrough
Northvolt is using a material called Prussian White in the cathodes of its sodium-ion batteries

Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt is lauding a landmark achievement in a new sodium-ion battery technology that does not rely on critical minerals. But EVs may have to wait well into the 2030s to see any benefits.

Northvolt’s cell is produced with minerals such as iron and sodium that are relatively abundant when compared with the nickel, cobalt, graphite and lithium needed in existing EV battery technologies.

The cell is based on a hard carbon anode and a Prussian White-based cathode.

Northvolt says it plans to be the first to bring these types of cells to commercial markets. But the EV space is not its first target.

“The world has put high hopes on sodium-ion, and I am very pleased to say that we have developed a technology that will enable its widespread deployment to accelerate the energy transition," says Peter Carlsson, co-founder and CEO of Northvolt.

"It is 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 fact that the battery cells can be produced with locally sourced materials offers the potential for the development of new regional manufacturing capacity independent of traditional battery value chains.

Northvolt says sodium-ion batteries are also a cheaper and safer alternative to the lithium-based batteries widely used for energy storage as they work better at extreme temperatures.

The first generation of battery cells will be designed primarily for energy storage. But subsequent generations aim to deliver better energy density and target the EV sector.

The cell has an energy density of around 160Wh/kg. Lithium batteries used in electric cars tend to have an energy density of 250-300Wh/kg while those deployed in energy storage usually have around 180Wh/kg.

The firm hopes to provide the first prototypes of its sodium-ion batteries to customers next year, and is targeting full-scale production by the end of the decade.

Northvolt currently makes lithium-ion battery cells aimed at the automotive sector at a gigafactory in Sweden. Customers include BMW, Fluence, Scania, Volvo Cars and Volkswagen . The firm has plans for three more plants, in Canada, Germany and Sweden.

In August, the firm raised $1.2bn from a consortium of investors including BlackRock, Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen.

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