World’s First Mass-Scale Sodium-Ion Battery Plant to Debut in Michigan
HOLLAND, Mich. — A city perhaps best known today for being the home of the much-photographed Big Red Lighthouse that stands between the channel linking Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan, will soon be home to the world’s first mass-scale sodium-ion battery plant.
Natron Energy Inc., a Santa Clara, California-based maker of sodium-ion batteries, and Clarios International Inc., a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based maker of low-voltage advanced battery technologies, have agreed to retool the latter’s so-called Meadowbrook facility and start mass producing sodium-ion batteries there starting in 2023.
Sodium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries analogous to the lithium-ion battery most people are already familiar with. However, they have one great advantage over their lithium predecessors — sodium is naturally abundant almost everywhere, whereas lithium battery components like cobalt, copper, nickel and lithium itself are often difficult to source.
In addition to effectively solving the supply chain issues associated with lithium batteries, they’d also be far less costly to produce.
Natron has spent 10 years perfecting sodium-ion battery chemistry for mass manufacturing, and in 2021 released the world’s first UL listed sodium-ion battery product.
Since then, the company says, a number of Fortune 500 companies — primarily in the telecom industry or reliant on data centers — have validated its work through independent testing and real-world usage.
Natron is banking on users of lithium batteries being tired of shortages caused by the scarcity of materials and disruptions of deliveries from foriegn mining projects. Absent those problems, they believe sodium-ion batteries will become the battery of choice based on availability and stability of price.
In a written statement Colin Wessells, Natron’s founder and CEO, described the manufacturing facility project as “the beginning of a new era” for his company.
The company has said future applications for sodium-ion batteries may also include electric vehicles and grid energy storage.
Even before the work on the manufacturing plant gets underway, both companies say there are extraordinary advantages to their hook-up.
The original Clarios Meadowbrook plant was built as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy program and has produced automotive lithium-ion cells for the past decade.
Under the terms of their agreement, electrodes and large format cells based on Natron’s proprietary Prussian blue electrode sodium-ion chemistry will be manufactured in the existing plant with workers using the same tools and equipment used for lithium-ion manufacturing.
This similarity in manufacturing requirements enables Natron and Clarios to leverage a portion of the Clarios Meadowbrook lithium-ion facility for sodium-ion manufacturing, at a lower cost and faster time to market compared to building an entirely new factory.
With support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency through the Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy Technologies With Untapped Potential Program, Natron will install new cell assembly equipment in the Clarios Meadowbrook plant to enable mass production of sodium-ion cells for its customers in the industrial power market.
“Clarios is excited to work with Natron to ramp up a promising energy storage solution,” said Craig Rigby, Clarios vice president, technology, in a written statement. “As the demand for energy storage increases across applications, we see the potential for this technology to address critical needs. As a world leader in battery technology, Clarios is invested in sharing its experience in the emerging battery space and to provide expertise in scale manufacturing for advanced technologies.”
Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue