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Energy Storage

Natron picks Lonza for Prussian blue

The Swiss manufacturer will make commercial-scale quantities for Natron’s sodium-ion batteries

by Marsha-Ann Watson
April 14, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 14


Image shows Prussian blue pigment powder.
Credit: Saalebaer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Prussian blue's main use is as a pigment.

In a significant first step toward producing its Prussian blue-based sodium-ion batteries at commercial scale, the start-up Natron Energy is partnering with the Swiss contract manufacturer Lonza to make Prussian blue.

Natron launched in 2012 to commercialize research done by its CEO, Colin Wessells, into Prussian blue—a pigment that can transfer electrons on an almost friction-free basis, making it a candidate material for battery electrodes. The company started selling batteries last year.

Under the agreement, Lonza’s specialty ingredients division will produce Prussian blue for Natron’s battery electrodes at its facility in Visp, Switzerland. Natron currently makes kilogram-scale quantities of Prussian blue at its Santa Clara, California, lab, but starting late next year Lonza will supply 700–1,000 metric tons of the pigment per year for the company’s Blue Tray 4000 battery system—enough to power 7–10 medium-sized data centers, one of Natron’s target markets. The batteries will be assembled in the US.

Lonza’s expertise, its existing manufacturing plants, and financial support from the Swiss region of Valais make the partnership an attractive one, Natron says. “There are numerous companies around the globe who offer Prussian blue,” Lukas von Hippel, vice president of Lonza Specialty Ingredients, says in an email. “However, you also need to have a good understanding of the electrochemical properties of the material, and build in both, product and manufacturing process.” Lonza also produces hydrogen cyanide, a key raw material for Prussian blue, in Visp.

Wessells says the agreement is in keeping with Natron’s decision not to raise the capital to build its own plants. With Lonza expected to deliver Prussian blue within the next 18 months, “we’ll finally have the opportunity to run a fully functional supply chain at high volume,” Wessells says.

In 2020, Lonza announced plans to divest its specialty ingredients division and focus on pharmaceutical services. “I think that’s in our favor,” Wessells says. “Now that it’s a standalone, leadership there is strongly incentivized to develop new partners.”

Natron says “only four battery chemistries have achieved commercial scale success in the last 100 years,” and that its Prussian blue chemistry could become the fifth.

Chloe Herrera, a senior associate at the consulting firm Lux Research, notes that “Prussian blue sodium-ion battery technology will be best suited for lower-cost markets which don’t need high energy densities, such as telecom and uninterruptible power supply data centers.” But Natron faces competition from another sodium-ion battery-maker, Faradion; existing lithium-ion and lead-acid battery technologies; and newer batteries such as zinc-air, Herrera says.



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