(Montreal) Northvolt plans to be the first company to commercialize sodium batteries on a large scale. This technology could play an important role in the energy transition, but not necessarily in terms of the electrification of vehicles.
The idea of designing sodium batteries is not new. In 1870, the author Jules Verne made reference to it in 20,000 places under the sea.
In this adventure novel, Captain Nemo explains to scientist Pierre Arronax that his submarine, the Nautilus, travels the seabed using batteries made from ocean salt.
“I will tell you, furthermore, that sodium batteries must be considered the most energetic, and that their electromotive force is double that of zinc batteries,” we can read in Jules Verne’s novel.
Since then, several companies have been interested in sodium batteries without much success and 150 years after the writing of Jules Verne’s novel, Northvolt announced “a new breakthrough” in sodium-ion batteries.
“The world has high hopes for sodium-ion, and I am very pleased to say that we have developed a technology that will enable its large-scale deployment to accelerate the development of the energy transition,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and co-founder of Northvolt, in a press release published at the beginning of December.
The Swedish company, which plans to open a battery mega-factory on the banks of the Richelieu River, however, does not intend to replace lithium with sodium in the composition of electric vehicle battery cells.
Sodium, a much more abundant resource than lithium, in addition to being cheaper and having a lower environmental footprint, would rather be used to store energy.
“The low cost and safety at high temperatures make this technology particularly attractive for energy storage solutions in emerging markets, including India, the Middle East and Africa,” Carlsson said in the release.
According to Michel Jébrak, professor emeritus in the department of Earth and atmospheric sciences at UQAM, the storage of renewable energy in sodium batteries is very promising.
The sodium used in batteries can be recovered from seawater, added Michel Jébrak, as Jules Verne imagined.
“The technology can be produced with locally sourced materials, providing a unique pathway to develop new regional battery manufacturing capabilities entirely independent of traditional battery value chains,” said Northvolt CEO, who plans to be the first company to commercialize this technology.
According to the press release published by Northvolt, the second generation of sodium batteries could be used for vehicles.
“Northvolt’s first generation of sodium-ion cells are designed primarily for energy storage. Subsequent generations, offering higher energy density, could open up opportunities to enable cost-effective electric mobility solutions. »
But according to Michel Jébrak, author of the book Objectif lithium: Succeeding in the energy transition, sodium does not call into question, at least in the short term, the role of lithium in the electrification of transport.
“The fundamental problem with sodium batteries is that sodium is about three times heavier than lithium. » So, “imagine if you have 300 kilogram batteries in your electric vehicles, if you put them in sodium, it will be 900 kilograms,” said the professor.
He said sodium batteries could eventually be used for transportation, but weight “will always be an issue.”
“Today, the technologies are mature for lithium-ion”, which remains “the best compromise for the moment” in the electrification of transport.
How long will lithium be “the best compromise”?
Certainly “for around ten years”, according to Michel Jébrak, who is however of the opinion that the development of new technologies such as the sodium battery or even the hydrogen battery will promote “a diversification of the battery markets” and ” lots of innovation in the years to come.”