May 16, 2022 15:09

Sodium-ion batteries are based on a gigafactory in Sweden

In early May, Altris, a Swedish startup developing cathode material for sodium ion batteries, commissioned Sandvik Materials Technology to build its first plant.

In early May, Altris, a Swedish startup developing cathode material for sodium-ion batteries, commissioned Sandvik Materials Technology to build its first plant. The brownfield plant, named "Ferrum", will be built north of Stockholm in Sandviken, where it will produce 2,000 tonnes of " Fennac " per year, the cathode material developed by the company, which is 1 GWh of sodium-ion battery. sufficient to produce. The Swedish startup has raised nearly € 10 million in the capital this year to build production capacity, with investors including Northvolt, one of Europe’s largest battery manufacturers.
Altris was founded in 2017 by researchers at Uppsala University who developed a cost-effective method to produce a cathode material called “Prussian white” in chemistry - which happens to be blue in color - and then patented their product under the name Fennac. In the following years, the development team focused on further developing the process and product, as well as boosting production, as a result of which they were able to produce enough cathode material from 2020 to be able to supply it to some of their partners. Last year, they managed to reach the MWh scale, and after CATL announced that a sodium-ion battery would be launched in 2023, interest in the Altris product also increased, so they now supply smaller quantities to more than half a dozen cell manufacturers in Europe, India, and China. Of course, the fact that several important raw materials for lithium-ion batteries have become significantly more expensive in recent months may also play a role in the growing interest.

According to its current business model, Altris only produces cathode material for its partners, who use it to develop battery cells themselves. However, it is made easier for cell manufacturers that the production technology for lithium-ion and sodium ion is very similar, so that both cell types can be made on the same production line, making sodium the most promising alternative to lithium for scaling production quickly and cheaply.

It is not yet known which of Altris's partners will produce their own sodium-ion battery in the coming years, but in 2019 Altris, in collaboration with another Swedish startup, began developing the cell itself, resulting in their first usable battery cell last year.
What do you know about Fennac?
The main advantage of Altris cathode material is that it is made of cheap and abundantly available materials. In addition to sodium, it contains only iron, nitrogen and carbon, its formula is as follows: NaxFe [Fe (CN) 6]. Nitrogen is found in large amounts in the air, sodium in seawater, iron is the third most common element in the earth’s crust, and carbon can be extracted from any organic waste. Most of the cost of manufacturing batteries is now made from raw materials, so Fennac is in a much better position than lithium-ion batteries, and there are no geopolitical risks or sustainability concerns. In addition, it is worth noting that in the case of sodium-ion batteries, an aluminum collector can be used instead of copper at the anode, and amorphous carbon (eg charcoal) can be used instead of graphite.

Fennac is more resistant to cold than lithium iron phosphate, close to it in terms of energy density, but there are not yet many reliable data on its lifespan.

The cells developed by Altris used a non-flammable, fluoride-free electrolyte, a cellulose separator, and binders of biological origin. This version, although very promising from an environmental and safety point of view, is far from ready for production, for example, and has a much lower energy density than CATL. However, thanks to the new entrants, competition in the sodium ion battery market will definitely intensify, which is a positive development for customers.