The Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries has paid $135 million to purchase Faradion, a UK start-up developing sodium-ion batteries. Reliance will invest a further $35 million in Faradion to accelerate the commercialization of its products, including batteries for electric vehicles.
Sodium-ion batteries are an attractive alternative to lithium-ion batteries because they are safer and about 30% cheaper. Their major disadvantage is that their energy density of about 150 W⋅h/kg is substantially lower than that of the latest lithium-ion batteries. Nevertheless, Reliance sees potential in renewable power storage as well as vehicles.
Reliance aims to produce sodium-ion batteries in India based on Faradion’s technology. “We will work with Faradion management and accelerate its plans to commercialize the technology through building integrated and end-to-end giga scale manufacturing in India,” Mukesh Ambani, Reliance’s chairman, says in a press release.
The firms are also looking beyond the Indian market. “Together with Reliance, Faradion can bring British innovation to India and globally, as the world increasingly looks beyond lithium,” Faradion CEO James Quinn states in the release.
The acquisition follows Reliance’s announcement in September that it will invest in sustainable technologies including batteries, electrolyzers for hydrogen production, and fuel cells. The company subsequently formed a series of partnerships and acquisitions in fields including hydrogen and photovoltaic cells.
The Faradion deal comes at a time when the price of lithium chemicals is surging as supply tightens. The cost of battery-grade lithium carbonate has more than tripled in the past 12 months, to above $30 per kg, according to the tracking firm S&P Global Platts. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency forecasts that demand for lithium will increase by a factor of 43 between 2020 and 2040.
Sodium’s abundance means its price is unlikely to rise dramatically in the foreseeable future. “Sodium-ion material costs are expected to remain stable over the next 10 years,” says a September 2021 report from the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Faradion claims to have a wide-ranging patent position relating to sodium-ion batteries, including eight families of patents that cover cell materials, cell infrastructure, and safety and transportation.
Several other companies are also developing sodium-ion batteries, including the Chinese lithium-ion battery giant CATL, which unveiled its first sodium-ion battery in July 2021. CATL plans to begin commercial production in 2023.