The DOE awarded $3.2 million in funding to 24M, an energy storage manufacturer, to research and develop low-cost, fast-charging sodium metal batteries. As the U.S. domestic market continues to grow for electric vehicles (EVs), sodium metal batteries may be an essential alternative to lithium-ion batteries, if they can be delivered at scale.
In partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), 24M will use its SemiSolid manufacturing platform to develop sodium metal batteries with a suitable low-temperature performance for EVs. Originally developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard lithium-ion process, the SemiSolid process and platform also promises improved performance. This trademarked technology was invented in the MIT lab of Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, who also happens to be 24M’s Chief Scientist and Co-Founder.
This proprietary product only recently reached commercialization potential with the raising of $56.8 million in Series E funding, announced in May 2021. Since then, other manufacturing and automotive groups such as Fujifilm, Volkswagen Group, and Lucas TVS began to partner with 24M for access to the SemiSolid manufacturing platform.
A report from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) projects 26.4 million EVs will be on U.S. roads by 2030, and as a result, the demand for EV batteries – and more notably the non-replaceable metal component, lithium – will increase rapidly.
“The demand for lower-cost, higher-capacity batteries is greater than ever before,” said Naoki Ota, president and CEO of 24M. “The current processes to manufacture lithium-ion batteries are approaching performance and cost limits and require an innovative manufacturing platform that improves performance while reducing costs.”
Currently, lithium is the standard for EV batteries due to its lightweight, but sodium-based batteries could be a promising alternative. Sodium is abundantly found in nature and thus, cheaper to procure. In a recent life cycle assessment of sodium-ion batteries from the Energy & Environmental Science journal, the environmental impacts also tend to be lower.
Lithium has another powerful disadvantage – limited supply in North America. For U.S. automotive manufacturers who are still recovering from the pandemic-related chip shortage, they have learned their lesson. Control over a domestic supply chain provides security against geopolitical upheaval or supplier shortages. While the Institute for Energy Research reports the U.S. owns 3% of the world’s reserves, there is currently only one producing lithium mine. Mines in Nevada are on hold due to environmental lawsuits, while other states struggle to find a path to production.
By funding this research, the DOE is also supporting the Biden administration’s goal for EVs to make up half of all domestic vehicle sales in 2030. In line with this policy, California banned the sale of gas cars by 2035, with New York quickly following suit. Now the race is on for automotive technology to keep up with swiftly approaching policy limitations.
This award to 24M is only one of a dozen selected teams with the intention of strengthening the domestic supply chain for batteries that power EVs. The EVs4ALL program is managed by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Selected from universities, national laboratories, and the private sector, these teams must address barriers to EV adoption by developing more sustainable battery technologies.
This announcement comes just five days after an announcement that 24M was awarded $9 million in funding from ARPA-E to develop and scale next-generation high energy density lithium metal anode cells for electric aviation.