The UK Faradion was founded in 2010 on the premise that sodium-ion batteries are cheaper and safer than lithium-ion, with a higher energy density and a wider operating temperature range than other batteries. There is now rising industry interest in the technology.
Faradion’s CEO, James Quinn, has been talking to Auto Futures.
“Research interest in sodium-ion batteries has really taken off since 2011 when the scientific community realised limited lithium resources was a fatal flaw inherent to lithium-ion batteries,” says Quinn, “We were really the first company to identify and exploit the potential of sodium-ions in a rechargeable battery.”
Quinn tells us that the the level of technological maturity sodium-ion batteries have achieved in just ten years mean its batteries already boast performance as good as Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries. And, of course, sodium-ion batteries contain no lithium.
“We have now developed a strategic, wide-reaching and extensive IP portfolio of 30 patent families including for cathode and abode material, safety and pack, as well as process. The majority of our IP is core state of matter, which is highly defensible. This makes our portfolio incredibly strong compared to other major companies in this space,” he explains.
Quinn expects sodium-ion batteries to break through into the long-range EV market. He is already seeing that in conversations the company is having in North America, Europe, Australia and South Asia.
“Our sodium-ion cells are an excellent drop-in replacement for lead-acid batteries for low cost electric transport – in LSEVs, e-scooters or as batteries for e-rickshaws and e-bikes – offering much greater range and carrying capacity for a similar price.”
“They also have potential for the S-L-I (starter-lighting-ignition) 12V battery or the 48V battery in a MHEV (mild hybrid electric vehicle). This is because sodium-ion has higher energy density than lead acid batteries, as well as improved performance over a wide temperature range,” he adds.
Of course, Faradion isn’t the only company developing sodium-ion EV charging technology. China’s CATL, the battery supplier to Hyundai and Tesla among others, has unveiled its first sodium-ion battery as well as its AB battery pack that integrates sodium-ion and lithium-ion cells into one unit.
“There is a momentum behind technologies beyond lithium, particularly when China is reliant on imports for over 80% of its lithium,” says Quinn
“Lithium-ion has been around for a long time, but with only micro-improvements being made each year. But our technology has a runway to make meaningful improvements in density and cycle rate year-on-year for several years still.”
Faradion is already developing, licensing and manufacturing sodium-ion technology for its partners around the world.
“We’ve built an ecosystem of suppliers including distribution partners, such as our Joint Venture in Australia. We typically work with one of the top two players in a particular segment, looking for large scale industrialisation partners,” notes Quinn.
The Rising Demand for Rare Elements
Lithium is a scarce element in the earth’s crust. The dominant forms of lithium production can be from brine, led by South American countries such as Chile, or mined from minerals where Australia is the leading producer.
“The current lithium-ion batteries have a lithium containing material such as lithium nickel-cobalt-manganese oxide (NMC) as the cathode, graphite as the anode with flammable organic compounds-based liquid electrolytes,” explains Quinn.
“The reason why such batteries cost a lot is because of two key reasons: high cost of lithium resources and also high cost of cobalt that is used in the NMC cathode.”
“Cobalt is similarly rare in the earth’s crust and is quite unique in that most of the cobalt production occurs as a by-product of other minerals’ production. This means that the supply, and hence price of cobalt, will be highly dependent on the demand for other elements – which is not good for price security. Most cobalt reserves are located in the geo-politically sensitive Democratic Republic of Congo,” he adds.
“Charging could be through lamp posts, parking meters and anywhere else that fits into our lives.”
In July, 2021. Nissan announced plans to build a battery gigafactory in the UK with the Chinese manufacturer. Faradion sees the move as a great opportunity for the country to take a leading role in next-generation battery technologies.
“Nissan’s new investment highlights the UK automotive industry’s commitment to net zero. Investment in cathode/anode production, cell manufacturing and application can create huge economic benefits for the country, including adding thousands of new green jobs and billions to GDP,” says Quinn.
“From Faradion’s perspective, since the manufacturing process of sodium and lithium-ion batteries is identical, including all equipment, it provides an exciting opportunity for Faradion’s technology to be used in existing lithium-ion manufacturing processes. The window is currently open for a country or region to create sodium-ion supply-chain clusters to take the lead in sodium-ion battery manufacturing as was done by Japan initially in the 1990s followed by South Korea and China for lithium-ion cell manufacturing.”
Finally, we asked Quinn what EV charging will be like by 2030.
“Simply, it will be ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives. In large parts of the USA today, it is possible to park your car in the driveway and charge it at home. But that’s not possible in cities like New York, large parts of Europe or places like Singapore. So charging could be through lamp posts, parking meters and anywhere else that fits into our lives,” he forecasts.