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Sodium-Ion Batteries Are On the Rise, But Lithium-Ion May Be Here to Stay Due to Indium

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The Rebirth Of Lithium-Ion?

A recent discovery by researchers at Cornell University might bring lithium-ion technology back into the race for perfect battery technology. They have found that using an indium anode material would allow for extremely quick charging of lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries have, so far, dominated the design of batteries for small electronics and early EV models. However, some limitations of the technology have made the industry look for alternatives, including sodium-ion or solid-state batteries.  Using Indium, a key problem for the mass adoption of EVs – range anxiety – would be removed. Most EV users are concerned about running out of battery before reaching a charging station. So, they tend to look for a very powerful battery pack, which adds weight and costs to the car.

Another problem is the time it takes to charge the battery. This can be a serious concern for long-distance travel or commercial applications. It also reduces the availability of charging stations, with each “full tank” taking time and keeping the EV charger unavailable.

So, a quicker-to-charge lithium-ion battery technology could help reduce the cost of EVs, alleviate range anxiety, and improve the capabilities of the charging network.

Indium Batteries To The Rescue?

The research was conducted by Lynden A. Archer’s team at Cornell’s Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, with the lead author Shuo Jin, a chemical and biomolecular engineering doctoral student.

In their publication “Fast-charge, long-duration storage in lithium batteries” they explain their approach. They focused on the kinetics (speed) of electrochemical reactions, specifically the “Damköhler number.” By looking at solid-state transport rates, they found that indium was a very good candidate for fast-charging batteries. Currently, indium is mostly used in LCD screens and other high-tech applications like photovoltaics, cryogenics, and nuclear reactor control rods.

Indium is a good metal for use in anodes because of its rapid diffusion and slow surface reaction kinetics, which translate into fast charging for the battery.

Indium a First Step Toward AI-designed Batteries?

Indium anodes could allow to reduce range anxiety, which in turn would reduce the need for very large and heavy battery packs. However, indium itself is a very heavy and dense metal.

This is why Pr Archer also considers his team's discovery about indium as a starting point.

“Therein lies an opportunity for computational chemistry modeling, perhaps using generative AI tools, to learn what other lightweight materials chemistries might achieve the same intrinsically low Damköhler numbers.

For example, are there metal alloys out there that we’ve never studied, which have the desired characteristics?”

Leveraging AI advancements to find new battery materials is a realistic idea, as has been shown by PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) researchers. In our article “Changing the Timeline for Discoveries through Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, we discussed how they used several predictive chemistry AIs to screen 32 million ideas in less than 80 hours, leading to the discovery of a new battery electrolyte.

So maybe the same technique can be used, focusing on the Damköhler number to find materials performing as well as indium, but less heavy.


Batteries Life Cycle Stocks

1. Arcadium Lithium (Merging of Allkem + Livent)

finviz dynamic chart for  ALTM

Arcadium is the result of the merger of equals between lithium mining leaders Allkem and Livent, making it the 3rd largest lithium producer in the world. The merger creates a company present in all steps of lithium production and processing.

The company's production is mostly located in Argentina, in the lithium triangle (Chile, Argentina, Bolivia) in the form of brines, with some hard rock lithium in Canada and Australia.

Source: Arcadium

Lithium is a commodity that has recently suffered from low prices, as major automakers like Ford or GM have slowed down their plans for EVs. At the same time, Chinese EV automakers like BYD are accused of flooding foreign markets with low-cost EVs, which could trigger a new wave of EV adoption in the coming years. For example, the €10,000 BYD Seagull arriving in Europe this year.

So, the current price weakness in lithium might not be forever.

2. CATL

CATL is the global leader in battery manufacturing, producing more than half of the global battery volume. The company is present at every step of the battery manufacturing supply chain and is a leader in battery technology.

This is true for lithium-ion batteries, where the company is a long-time established leader. CATL has also announced impressive progress on multiple other battery types :

Source: CATL

CATL has also invested 3.25B in battery recycling capacities in China. CATL has notably achieved a remarkable recovery rate of 99.6% for nickel, cobalt, manganese, and 91% for lithium.

Thanks to its scale, focus, and R&D achievements, CATL is likely to be at the forefront of battery innovation, manufacturing, and recycling. This makes it a key partner for EV manufacturers, including Tesla, NIO, Ford, Stellantis, etc.

3. BYD

A long-time challenger of Tesla in the EV market, BYD has become a serious competitor not only for Tesla but for virtually all automakers.

The company evolved from its origin as a phone battery supplier to selling almost as many EVs as Tesla in China (the world's largest EV market) and being the best-selling EV in Thailand, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel, and Brazil.

BYD is a large part of why China suddenly became the world's largest car exporter in 2023, surpassing Japan. The company's aggressive overseas expansion is also carried by new factories, like in Hungary. And with the release of $10,000-$12,000 cars like the Seagul, a whole new market might open for BYD EVs.

Source: By User3204 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=142412738

Still at its core, a battery manufacturer, BYD is a serious challenger to CATL in the LFP battery market, with a 41.1% market share in China (compared to CATL’s 33.9%).

The “flood” of cheap EVs produced by BYD into the European and American markets is likely to be met with some level of protectionism, which could hinder BYD's growth. But at the same time, cheap Chinese EVs are already a great success in the rest of the world, which does not have incumbents much in the way of domestic automakers to protect, including the entirety of South America, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

This represents several billion potential customers for BYD, living in countries eager to strike a geopolitical balance and stay on good terms with both the West and China, so it is unlikely to create too strong protectionist barriers.

Jonathan is a former biochemist researcher who worked in genetic analysis and clinical trials. He is now a stock analyst and finance writer with a focus on innovation, market cycles and geopolitics in his publication 'The Eurasian Century".