The sodium-ion battery of the future is coming to decarbonize US data centers, now do electric vehicles.

Buh-Bye, Conflict Minerals: US Gets First Sodium-Ion Battery Factory

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Lithium-ion batteries have been the workhorses of the renewable energy transition since the early 2000s, but the world is changing and so is energy storage. Researchers have been eyeballing a new sodium-ion battery formula that provides for a high level of performance while avoiding the supply chain issues that can bedevil conventional Li-ion batteries, and now all that hard work is beginning to pay off.

Here Comes The New Sodium-Ion Battery From Natron

In the latest sodium-ion battery news, on April 29, the US startup Natron Energy staked out its claim to the first commercial-scale production of a sodium-ion battery in the US when it hit the start button on its factory in Holland, Michigan.

Somewhat ironically, the new factory is a repurposed former lithium-ion battery plant. Natron expects the makeover to produce 600 megawatts worth of the new sodium-ion battery per year.

Electric vehicle fans, put away your pom-poms for now. Initially, the new factory will tap into the explosively growing energy storage needs of data centers. In particular, Natron anticipates that the equally explosive growth of AI technology will fuel more demand for energy storage and 24/7 power at data centers in the US.

The 600 megawatts is just for starters. Natron also anticipates that the Holland factory will provide a model for future gigawatt-scale factories to follow, with an eye on additional markets, including off-road industrial vehicles and EV fast charging stations, as well as the telecom field.

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Many Helping Hands For The New Sodium-Ion Battery

If you’re looking forward to a sodium-ion battery for your next electric vehicle, you may have to wait a while. In the meantime, Natron’s technology fits the bill for large-scale energy storage. CleanTechnica first caught wind of the data center angle in July of 2020, when the company announced a new round of $35 million in funding from ABB Technology Ventures, NanoDimension Capital, and Volta Energy Technologies.

“The new investors join Chevron, Khosla Ventures, and Prelude on the Natron roster, so it looks like things are cooking,” we noted.

“Natron plans to expand its reach in a wide range of scale, from edge and distributed computing to massive data centers and telecom infrastructure,” we also noted.

The US Department of Energy can also give itself a pat on the back for the new sodium-ion battery factory. In September of 2020, the company received a $19.9 million award from the Energy Department’s ARPA-E office for funding high-risk, high-reward projects, with the goal of shepherding the new factory into being.

“The project aims to scale up production of Natron Energy’s (Natron) Prussian blue electrode sodium-ion batteries by 30x to 18,000 trays per year, and fully de-risk the resulting supply chain and products through continuous production and sales for six months,” ARPA-E explained. The office also noted that the company’s 8-kilowatt, 50-volt battery tray is primarily designed to manage peak loads at data centers and provide emergency backup power, but emerging markets like EV fast charging stations and grid-scale storage are also targeted.

“Natron’s tray provides data center operators up to 2x higher power density and 10x longer cycle life than existing products, along with superior safety performance,” ARPA-E adds.

Making Sodium-Ion Batteries Better

The 19th century writer and geology enthusiast Jules Verne famously cooked up a sodium battery to power Captain Nemo’s submarine in his 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s taken a while, but sodium is finally having a moment.

The sustainability factor behind the silvery-white metallic element sodium (chemical symbol Na from the Latin natrium) has been driving the interest in sodium-ion batteries. However, there being no such thing as a free lunch, the battery of the future has been elusive until recent years.

Sodium is far more abundant than lithium, but it is also much heavier. In terms of energy storage for electric vehicles, lithium beats sodium on driving range.

On the other hand, the “chemical kinship” between sodium and lithium provides a helping hand for battery research. “Sodium is just below lithium in the periodic table of the elements, meaning their chemical behaviors are very similar,” Physics Magazine helpfully explained just last week.

“That chemical kinship allows sodium-ion batteries to ‘ride the coattails’ of lithium-ion batteries in terms of design and fabrication techniques,” they added.

Longtime energy storage researcher Jean-Marie Tarascon of the College of France was even more forthcoming. “Sodium-ion technology is really a clone of lithium-ion technology,” he told Physics Magazine.

Aside from weight, another challenge has been longevity. The Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory explained the problem back in 2022, describing a weak link as the protective film on the anode of a sodium-ion battery, which degrades over time. “This film is critical because it allows sodium ions to pass through while preserving battery life,” the lab explained.

Lithium-ion batteries also degrade, but a typical sodium-ion battery degrades much faster. Developing an electrolyte formula that stabilizes the film has been a moving target. Natron launched in 2012 with a mission to hit that target, and apparently they have succeeded after a little more than a decade.

The Electric Vehicle Angle

The relatively low cost of sodium-ion batteries also opens up the opportunity for rapid deployment in community electric vehicles, second cars, and other short-range applications that don’t necessarily require an expensive, long-range, fast-charging battery.

Beyond that, other battery innovators are working towards replacing lithium-ion technology with sodium-ion in highway-worthy EVs. The Swedish startup Northvolt is among those first out of the gate, and more activity in the EV area is stirring.

Here in the US, the Energy Department has been lending an assist to sodium-based energy storage innovators. Last October, for example, ARPA-E awarded $3,198,085 to the Massachusetts firm 24M Technologies to develop a new sodium-ion battery specifically for EVs.

“24M’s cell design will incorporate (1) its ultra-thick SemiSolid cathode made up of advanced cobalt-free, nickel-free sodium cathode active material, (2) an advanced wide-temperature, fast-charging electrolyte developed using machine learning and automated high-throughput screening technology, and (3) a sodium super ionic conductor,” ARPA-E explained.

On the research side, the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory has been building on its experience with lithium-ion batteries to develop new solutions for a roadworthy sodium-ion battery.

A research team at Argonne developed the lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material for EV batteries, which General Motors deployed in its Chevy Volt and Bolt cars. Commercial interest in NMC battery technology is still ongoing, but Argonne has moved on to explore new territory.

The key to the NMC architecture was to arrange the atoms in layers, enabling the lithium to flow more efficiently. Argonne has been replicating the strategy for its new sodium battery research. The result is a layered sodium nickel-manganese-iron oxide formula that allows for the efficient insertion and extraction of sodium. “The absence of cobalt in the cathode formula mitigates cost, scarcity and toxicity concerns associated with that element,” the lab notes.

Among other automakers, keep an eye on Stellantis. Earlier this year, the company let word drop that it has invested in the French sodium-ion energy storage innovator Tiamat.

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Photo (cropped): New sodium-ion battery from Natron provides for energy storage without conflict minerals. (courtesy of Natron via

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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