CATL: sodium ion battery breakthrough?

CATL: sodium ion battery

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) is a Chinese battery manufacturer, HQ’ed in Fusian, founded in 2011, with >30,000 employees. It may produce as many as one-third of all the lithium ion batteries in the world. This data-file assesses whether it has made a breakthrough in sodium ion batteries.

Lithium shortages. Our review finds that CATL has been vocally warning of lithium shortages since 2016. Lithium demand rises 30x in the energy transition, per our own models here, while there are also challenges ahead for next-generation lithium extraction technologies.

However sodium comprises 2.7% of the Earth’s crust, versus Lithium’s 0.006%. In principle, sodium ion batteries can achieve comparable energy densities than lithium ion batteries, c80-90% round-trip efficiencies, similar temperature ranges and better safety. Hence in 2021, CATL announced it would be bringing a sodium-ion battery to market by 2023.

Technical challenges for sodium ion batteries are nicely illustrated in this data-file, which has simply reviewed a subset of CATL’s sodium ion battery patents. A core challenge recolves around innovating new anode and cathode materials that are adapted to sodium’s c30% wider diameter than lithium.

There are undoubtedly some exciting innovations in this patent library, especially around cathode materials. So can we de-risk the CATL sodium ion battery? If this was a standalone patent library, we might not be able to de-risk CATL’s 2023 target to produce sodium ion batteries at commercial scale.

Recent Commentary: please see our article here.

Lithium from brines: the economics?

Battery-grade lithium from brines

This data-file approximates the production costs of battery-grade lithium from brines, both via traditional salars, and via the emerging technology of direct lithium extraction.

Costs are c40-60% lower than mined lithium production in ($/ton of lithium carbonate equivalent). CO2 intensity is 50-80% lower (in kg/kg).

The data-file is informed by capex and opex disclosures from companies, and data from technical papers, which also cover the ionic composition of different brines.

Note: compared to other models we have constructed, there are more uncertainties and rounding in this model, because precise chemistries vary brine by brine, and because direct lithium extraction techniques are still not fully mature. Hence we have only attempted a high-level model.

To read more about battery-grade lithium from brines and to compare and contrast our lithium mining/refining and salar/DLE brine models, please see our article here.

Graphite: upgrade to premium?

Graphite opportunity in energy transition

Global graphite volumes grow 6x in the energy transition, mostly driven by electric vehicles, while marginal pricing also doubles. We see the industry moving away from China’s near-exclusive control. The future favors a handful of Western producers, integrated from mine to anode, with CO2 intensity below 10kg/kg. This 10-page note concisely outlines the opportunity.

Graphite production: the economics?

Battery graphite cost

This data-file on battery graphite cost captures simplified economics for producing battery-grade graphite (i.e., 99.9% pure, coated, spheronized graphite) in an integrated facility, from mine to packaged output.

Marginal cost is estimated at around $10,000/ton for a 10% IRR. CO2 intensity is highly variable and debatable. Input assumptions come from technical papers, company disclosures and one detailed feasibility study (see below).

Numbers are more uncertain than other models we have constructed. However, you can nevertheless stress test the impact of changing graphite prices, electricity prices, CO2 prices, capex costs, wage rates, ore grades, processing efficiency and tax rates.

Further research. Our outlook on graphite in the energy transition is linked here. A broader discussion of this model is linked here. Our screen of leading graphite companies is linked here.

Auto manufacturing: the economics?

This data-file is a very simple model, aiming to break down the sales price of a typical mass-market automobile. Our numbers are informed by a survey of typical numbers for specific auto-plants in Europe and the US.

In typical times, a vehicle’s cost is estimated around $30k, of which c25% accrues to suppliers, c20% is sales taxes, c20% is dealer costs and logistics, c10% employees, c10% material inputs, c10% O&M, 1% electricity and c5% auto-maker margins. Numbers and calculations are in the data-file.

Amidst energy and industrial shortages, it is likely that the same vehicle could cost closer to $50k, representing c40% inflation, mostly due higher costs of materials and bottlenecks in supply chains.

EV fast charging: opening the electric floodgates?

power electronics for electric vehicle charging

This 14-page note explains the crucial power-electronics in an electric vehicle fast-charging station, running at 150-350kW, to charge up an entire EV in 10-30 minutes. Most important are power-MOSFETs, comprising c5-10% of charger costs. The market trebles by the late 2020s. We explore who benefits?

Power-MOSFETs for EV charging: a screen?

This data-file screens companies that make power-MOSFETs, especially for EV charging and new energies applications. These are the transistors used to convert AC inputs into safe, fault-free and high-power DC charging outputs.

The screen covers six of the leading public companies, each with 5-25% market share, making the industry relatively concentrated. We also profile the leading public producer of silicon carbide input materials.

In each case, we outline the company’s size, geography, focus, patents, market share and key notes on EV fast-charging MOSFETs.

Electric vehicles: chargers of the light brigade?

economics of EV charging stations

This 14-page note compares the economics of EV charging stations with conventional fuel retail stations. They are fundamentally different. Our main question is whether EV chargers will ultimately get over-built, as retailers look to improve their footfall and accelerate the energy transition. This means prospects may be best for charging equipment and component manufacturers.

Electric motors: state of flux?

Axial flux motor technology

Motor innovations are an overlooked enabler for the electrification of transport. This 15-page note explores whether axial flux motors could come to dominate in the future. They promise 2-3x higher power densities, even versus Tesla’s world-leading PMSRMs; and 10-15x higher than clunky industrial AC induction units; while also surpassing c96% efficiencies. This extends the range of EVs and the promise of drones/aerial vehicles.

Axial flux motors: leading companies and products?

This data-file profiles leading companies and products in the space of axial flux motors, in order to highlight ‘who they are’ and ‘what they do’.

One tab compiles the details of ten leading axial flux motor designs, with an average power density of almost 8kW/kg, which is even higher than the PMSRMs used in the latest Teslas, and around 10x higher than a typical AC induction motor in heavy industry. Other technical parameters of these motors are also compiled.

Leading companies are also profiled later in the data-file, based on reviewing over 1,200 patents, the companies’ size and their recent news flow. The pace of patent activity has been rising at a CAGR of 16% over the past decade, including traditional cap goods, autos and motors companies, plus pure-plays in axial flux motors (see diagram above).

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.