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.

Mine trucks: transport economics?

There are around 50,000 giant mining trucks in operation globally. The largest examples are around 16m long, 10m wide, 8m high, can carry around 350-450 tons and reach top speeds of 40mph.

This data-file captures the economics of a mine haul truck. A 10% IRR requires a charge of $10/ton of material, if it is transported 100-miles from the mine to processing facility. Assumptions can be stress-tested overleaf.

Fuel consumption is large, around 40bpd, or 0.3mpg, comprising around 30% of total mine truck costs at c$1.5-2/gal diesel prices. Some lower carbon fuels are c5x more expensive, and would thus inflate mined commodity costs.

High utilization rates are also crucial to economics, to defray fixed costs, which are c50% of total costs, as our numbers assume each truck will cover an average of 500 miles per day for c20-25 years.

Lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates the greatest challenges for lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles, which have been cited in 2020’s patent literature. Specifically, the work contains a sample of 100 patents aiming to overcome these challenges, as filed by companies including Tesla, CATL, GM, GS Yuasa, LG, Nissan, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sumitomo, Toyota, et al.

Our notes and conclusions are spelled out in detail. We find the industry is clearly entering execution mode, and less focused on radical breakthroughs in energy density. CATL and Tesla’s pursuit of a “million mile battery” is substantiated, but includes trade-offs. The patent disclosures also suggest great difficulties in ever achieving a battery-powered semi-truck.

Leading Companies in Battery Recycling?

This data-file tracks over 6,000 patents filed into battery recycling technology, focusing in on 1,800+ post-2010, Western-filed patents. This matters as annual battery disposal requirements will ramp up to over 250kTpa over the next decade.  Hence the pace of patent developement has been escalating at a 15% CAGR.

18 technology leaders are profiled ex-China, based on their patent filings and public disclosures. We tabulate the size, likely battery recycling revenues and recent commercial progress.

The leaders include 6 larger-cap listed companies (two in Japan, two in the US, one in Korea, one in Europe) and 10 private companies, including some exciting, early-stage concepts to improve material recovery and costs.

The final tabs of the file include all of the patents, with summaries, and our notes from recent technical papers.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.