Solidion seeks to provide sodium-based electrolytes as an alternative to lithium-ion batteries


A recent report by the International Energy Agency said lithium-ion batteries remain the key storage technology for the energy and transportation sectors. While mining for lithium is keeping pace with increasing demand, lithium refining and production of battery packs is concentrated in China, which causes some concerns in the West over supply chains and market dominance.

Sodium is emerging as a viable material for solid state batteries for many of the same energy storage applications that now favor lithium-ion systems.

Bor Jang, chief science officer and board chairman of Solidion Technology, an Ohio-based developer of solid battery technologies, told pv magazine USA that as many countries become dependent on batteries for important sectors of their economies, they will be prompted to search for alternative formulations to those based on lithium, which is relatively rare.

“Sodium, by contrast, is much more abundant in the Earth’s crust and oceans and is evenly distributed around the world,” he said.

In addition to its abundance, which leads to lower costs and easier supply chains, sodium-ion formulations have advantages in faster recharge rates and improved fire safety over lithium-ion ones, Jang said. The tradeoff is that sodium-ion batteries have less energy density (watts per kilogram), which translates into shorter ranges for electric vehicles and less overall storage capacity for grid operators for the same footprint.

However, Jang said, sodium-ion batteries are perfectly suited to EV uses where a 150-mile range would not be a burden, such as for local utility fleets or commuter driving, and where their faster recharge cycles would be appreciated, as would the projected lower price. Similarly, grid-storage facilities where footprint is not an issue would benefit from recharge rates and fire safety characteristics.

On the manufacturability side, Jang said sodium-ion batteries could be produced in factories that currently make lithium-ion batteries with only minor changes to the equipment.

“Solium-ion batteries have the potential to be useful across a wide range of applications, not just those dominated by lithium-ion technology” Jang said. “They can be used in place of lead-acid batteries, for example. Such demand will bring down prices.”

A materials scientist by education, Jang said he turned his attention to solid-state battery research and development about 20 years ago as the needs of the proposed energy transition from fossil fuels to non-emitting sources clearly would require a dramatic increase in energy storage capacity, particularly with renewable generators such as solar and wind. He founded a number of companies focused on the supply of materials for solid state battery electrolytes, anodes and cathodes.

Earlier this year, he saw the merger of his Honeycomb Battery Co. with Nubia Brand International Corp. which gave Solidion status as a publicly traded company. It joins a number of competitors hoping to commercialize sodium-ion batteries.

Jang said Solidion is working with the U.S. Department of Energy through one of the national laboratories, not announced, and the University of Texas, Austin, to improve the performance of sodium-ion battery technology. In particular, the focus is on improving the energy density electrolyte and replacing expensive cobalt and nickel in battery components.

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