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‘Breakthrough battery’ from Sweden may cut dependency on China

Europe’s energy and electric vehicle industries could reduce their dependency on scarce raw materials from China after the launch of a “breakthrough” sodium-ion battery, according to its Swedish developer.

Northvolt, Europe’s only large homegrown electric battery maker, has said it has made a lower cost, more sustainable battery designed to store electricity which does not use lithium, nickel, graphite and cobalt.

Britain and Europe’s electric battery industry is reliant on raw materials, or completed batteries, sourced from China and other Asian nations.

Northvolt said its new battery, which has an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kilogram, has been designed for electricity storage plants but could in future be used in electric vehicles, such as two wheeled scooters.

“Using sodium-ion technology is not new but we think this is the first product ever completely free from critical raw materials. It is a fundamental breakthrough,” said Patrik Andreasson, Northvolt’s vice-president of strategy and sustainability. “This provides an option that is not dependent on certain parts of the world, including China.”

Asked if Northvolt would open operations in the UK, Andreasson said: “We have our hands full. We have a clear path of where we are going.”

The prototype battery has been developed at the company’s labs in Västerås, Sweden, and will be shown to customers next year. The company has not decided where the battery will be manufactured in larger quantities.

Storing electricity in batteries on an industrial scale is seen as crucial to decarbonising national electricity grids. Battery projects store energy from wind and solar panels which can be used when the wind drops or sun is not shining.

MPs have long voiced concerns over the dependence on China’s scarce resources for critical minerals amid deteriorating Anglo-Sino relations and a carmaking industry swiftly switching towards electric vehicles. Battery makers have looked to diversify their supply chains and use alternative technologies in an attempt to combat this.

Britain and its neighbours hope to develop homegrown electric battery industries with varying success. Britishvolt, which had hoped to build a £3.8bn gigafactory in northern England, collapsed earlier this year, but the sector was given a boost by Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata’s decision to build a £4bn specialist factory in the UK.

Andreasson said: “When you think about energy security, it’s inconceivable to think about operating without leaders. The impact of creating jobs it can bring cannot be underestimated. You need to have local or regional champions.”

Northvolt produced its first lithium ion battery cell at a plant in northern Sweden in late 2021.

Andreasson said that the energy density of the new battery was lower than most lithium equivalents but it would aim to build that up in the new product, while keeping costs low.

Northvolt said the battery, which is based on a high-sodium Prussian white cathode and hard carbon anode, is safer than alternatives at high temperatures. As a result, the company is targeting markets such as the Middle East, India and Africa.

Northvolt, which counts Volkswagen as an investor and Volvo and BMW among its customers, has been tipped to float on the stock market but has no immediate plans to do so.

 

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