Sodium Ion Battery is the dream battery that will have a great impact on the market: Bala Pachayappa, CEO, Sodion Energy

As the Battery Electric Vehicles are gaining momentum, Lithium Ion Batteries have emerged as the obvious choice. But the scarcity of Lithium in countries like India, China’s control over this resource and high dependence on imports with some technological issues are some factors that raise doubts whether these BEVs can really replace conventional vehicles.

In this backdrop, Sodium Ion Batteries is also coming into picture, the low cost of sodium, compared to that of lithium and similar chemistry and intercalation kinetics to that of lithium present it as an alternative that can solve some of the major issues.

A Startup based in Coimbatore, Sodion Energy under the Sri Pachayappa Baladhandayuthapani is also working to develop the next generation of green, safe, and high-performance Sodium Ion batteries. The company designs, develops, and manufactures Sodium Ion Battery Packs for a multiple applications. Our Editor, Piyush Rajan recently had a chance to interact with Sri Pachyappa over a range of issues, we are presenting the excerpts from the conversation.

As Lithium-ion is presently the go-to battery for EVs and it is widely commercialized also. Do you think there is space for other battery technologies?

The future of storage will have a wide range of options and all of them will co-exist. Given the rate of expected growth of Electrification which directly impacts the demand for Energy Storage technology, different battery technologies will be forced to co-existence simply because of the high volume and range of applications that will be in demand.

What are the advantages of Sodium Ion batteries over Lithium ion batteries?

Following are the key advantages of Sodium Ion Batteries (Na+ ion batteries, hence NIBs) over Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs)

  • NIBs are much safer with very low risk of fire and explosions
  • NIBs cells cost less to produce as they can be made from abundantly available and economical materials such as sodium, copper and aluminium that are locally available, as compared to LIB cells which typically require more expensive materials such as Cobalt, Nickel and Lithium
  • NIB cells are more environmentally friendly to produce
  • NIBs behave like capacitors and can be discharged to zero voltage without issues. This means that it can be fully discharged for safe transportation, whereas various issues will arise if LIBs are discharged to zero voltage
  • 5C charging and discharging without loss of battery life is possible for NIBs (meaning you can discharge or charge the Batteries in 12 minutes), which will help in the battery weight reduction for vehicles needing higher torque while maintaining high battery life
  • NIBs can potentially provide power density and battery life comparable to LIBs but at a significantly lower cost

Has NIB reached the stage of technical maturity when it can be produced in large quantities?

NIB is no longer a lab technology, and several players around the world have started shipping NIB products. We have produced one batch of NIB battery packs consisting of 100,000 cells which have been tested and validated, and we are now going through the necessary compliance certifications to bring it to market.

Is it realistic at present to expect that sodium-ion batteries can be used the long-range electric vehicles?

While it will take some time to match LIB performance, some cars and e-2wheelers are already running with NIBs in China, and France has buses powered by NIBs. Sodium based battery technologies and solutions are being developed in the UK and Japan even now.

What would be the impact of NIB on emerging EV markets like India?

NIB has the potential to eventually surpass LIB performance, with greater safety and temperature tolerance performance, and at significantly lower prices. We believe this “dream battery” will have a great impact on the market.

When do you look to launch these batteries in India?

We are preparing to launch our Battery packs in end Jan or early Feb 2021.

To promote sodium-ion battery manufacturing its requires attractive governmental policies, where do you think India stands on this front?

As battery cell manufacturing is highly capital intensive, it will be a huge step forward if the Government is willing to co-invest with a favourable exit strategy. While we are currently contract manufacturing overseas, we are keen to work with local businesses or investors. We are offering a full turnkey setup for making NIB cells with technology transfer at an estimated US$30Million investment for annual production capacity of 150MWh(or roughly 83000 cells a day). Alternatively, since much of the actual production is similar to LIBs, we are also open to contract manufacturing partnerships with local companies.

What makes Sodion Energy different from other sodium-ion battery technology companies that also planning to start their operation in India?

No single company can dominate the market on its own, and every new entrant to India will promote the faster adoption of NIBs. Thus we welcome healthy competition, and in working with other NIB players, we will be able to grow the necessary Energy Storage ecosystem in India.

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