Addressing concerns raised by Professor Simon Michaux about the challenges of transitioning from oil to renewable energy, Northvolt emphasizes the scarcity of minerals and energy. Michaux warns of potential resource competition, hunger, and compromised healthcare due to the inability to store large amounts of renewable energy effectively.
To counteract these challenges and reduce dependence on critical metals like lithium, Northvolt has developed a sodium-ion battery. Andreas Haas, head of Northvolt's sodium-ion program, highlights the breakthrough in using sodium, a common and abundant element, as opposed to lithium. The new lithium-free sodium-ion battery is cheaper, more sustainable and doesn’t rely on scarce raw materials.
–The last few years have seen battery technology evolve to enable longer electric vehicle ranges. Our focus has been to explore other markets, says Haas.
Should we be moving away from lithium?
The sodium-ion battery, composed of sodium, iron, carbon and nitrogen, is positioned as a sustainable alternative to lithium. Haas reiterates the company's commitment to recycling critical materials, minimizing reliance on mining, and moving toward a more environmentally friendly approach.
– We work with critical materials globally, as everybody does. Mining is part of the value chain. We want to move away from it as much as possible through recycling. That's why the sodium-ion initiative is such a breakthrough," adds Sanna Bäckström, a communicator at Northvolt.
While Northvolt plans to lead industrial production and commercial sales of this sodium-ion battery, they acknowledge the technology's roots in the Nobel Prize-winning research of John B. Goodenough. Haas notes that competitors, particularly Chinese companies, are exploring similar technologies with variations in materials such as nickel.
The batteries developed by Northvolt are not yet ready for mass production. The final products are expected to be five to ten times larger.
– We are already working on the second generation of these batteries for other markets. We want to scale this up, he says.
As for when these batteries will be available in cars, Haas says it will be a few years. At the same time, Northvolt's U.S. subsidiary, Cuberg, is developing another lithium technology to produce batteries for the aviation sector.
– That way we cover three markets.
The sodium-ion technology, which has been developed together with Northvolt's research partner Altris, is intended to provide the foundation for Northvolt's next-generation energy storage solutions. The low cost and safety at high temperatures make the technology especially attractive for energy storage solutions in upcoming markets, including India, the Middle East and Africa.
Additionally, the technology can be produced with locally sourced materials, providing a unique pathway for developing new regional battery manufacturing capacity entirely independent of traditional battery value chains.