Stellantis and Tiamat to build sodium-ion batteries in France

The French start-up company Tiamat Energy is planning a factory for sodium-ion battery cells with an annual capacity of 5 GWh in northern France and is receiving financial support from Stellantis, among others.

Tiamat Energy is a sodium-ion cell developer spun off from the French National Research Centre CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). The company is planning a production facility with an annual capacity of five gigawatt-hours and up to 1 200 jobs in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France, with construction due to start at the beginning of this year.

The commissioning of the first phase of the plant with an annual capacity of 0,7 GWh is planned for the end of 2025, with 5 GWh to be reached by 2029. Tiamat initially wants to manufacture sodium-ion cells for power tools and stationary storage applications in its factory, but will later also produce a new generation of its cells for electric cars.

Additional financing

Tiamat describes a new financing round, which brought in € 30 million in the first phase as the start of the industrial project. The backers are new investors Stellantis, Arkema, and MBDA, as well as existing investors and the French investment bank Bpifrance.

This is the third financing round for the startup, which was founded in Amiens in 2017. It is part of a larger fundraising in the course of which Tiamat aims to raise a total of € 150 million through grants, loans and other investor funds.

According to Tiamat Managing Director Herve Beuffe, the above-mentioned funds will be used in part for the construction of the battery factory in northern France. The company wants to locate its plant in a region that is booming in the battery sector. Battery cell factories from ProLogium and Renault partner Verkor, a battery recycling plant from Eramet and Suez, and a cathode material plant from XTC and Orano are being built around Dunkerque alone. The Envision battery factory currently under construction in Douai is also located in the Hauts-de-France region.

More sustainable and affordable

The size of Stellantis’ investment is not specified in the company’s press release. Ned Curic, Director of Engineering and Technology at Stellantis, is only quoted as saying: “Exploring new options for more sustainable and affordable batteries that use widely available raw materials is a key part of our ambitions of the Dare Forward 2030 strategic plan that will see us reach carbon net zero by 2038.”

Tiamat is the only player in the list that favors sodium-ion batteries. This technology has re-emerged in recent years and would bring a clear cost reduction in the electric car sector. After all, the low-cost sodium replaces lithium, which has now become very expensive. However, there is a downside: sodium-ion batteries are known to have a lower energy density.

In China, the big players are increasingly turning to sodium-ion batteries: BYD and Huaihai recently signed a contract to build a plant for sodium-ion batteries in China with an annual capacity of 30 GWh. CATL is also planning to produce sodium-ion cells. The Chinese startup Zoolnasm is also planning to do so in 2024.

In Europe, only the Swedish battery cell manufacturer Northvolt has announced its entry into the sodium-ion battery business. However, a lot is also happening at the research level in Germany: EAS Batteries, Ionic Liquids Technologies, and three institutes at the TU Braunschweig recently announced, for example, that they are developing production processes for sodium-ion cells in the NaNaBatt project, which are primarily intended to be sustainable and cost-efficient.

Head-to-head race

On the other side of the spectrum, Mercedes CTO Markus Schâfer has been dropping a little bomb recently concerning the ‘holy grail’ of the solid-state battery. Talking to the British car magazine Autocar, Schäfer now indicates that conventional batteries are quickly becoming so much better that the solid-state battery advantages aren’t that obvious anymore, except for the safety advantages, but here developments in lithium technology are also expected.

For Schäfer, solid-state no longer seems a major breakthrough and still faces a very long development time. “The very optimistic forecasts a while ago remind me a little bit of the forecasting for autonomous driving,” he said.

His comments are at odds with the recent positive developments in solid-state battery technology Nissan and Toyota have been talking about. They talk about mass production in 2028 and still see it as a key breakthrough.

Finally, Schäfer is also no fan of using smaller batteries and depending more on a better fast-charging infrastructure. He sees range anxiety still very prevalent among his customers, who still think of the worst-case scenario.

“They think about the one trip they must do each year that requires more range, like the winter ski trip or the summer holiday voyage. It’s not rational, but it’s reality.”

 

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