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Sodium-ion battery startups look to build U.S. supply chains

Julia Lamb, Head of Cathode R&D for Bedrock Materials, assessing the startup's first cathode active materials.

Julia Lamb, head of cathode R&D for Bedrock Materials, assesses the startup's first cathode active materials. Photo: Courtesy of Bedrock Materials

Growing global momentum around sodium-ion batteries is opening a window for startups to innovate and try to build supply chains outside of China.

Why it matters: Sodium-ion batteries have been making major headway, mostly in Asia, this year and could lead to lower-cost EVs and grid storage as well as shifts in global battery mineral supply chains.

Driving the news: Battery startup Bedrock Materials closed a $9 million seed round to develop materials for sodium-ion batteries.

  • The round for the Chicago-based company was led by Trucks Venture Capital, Refactor Capital, and Version One Ventures. The startup was launched last year by Stanford researchers Spencer Gore and Rafael Vila.
  • Gore, who's Bedrock's CEO, tells Axios that the company's mission is to "build the domestic supply chain for sodium-ion batteries."
  • "It's starting to become clear that sodium ion is the first real battery technology to make it out of the lab and into the market in my lifetime," said Gore.

Catch up quick: Lithium-ion batteries are dominant for EVs, consumer electronics and grid storage, but sodium-ion batteries are emerging as a contender for certain applications.

  • They're lower cost, as sodium is more abundant and cheaper than lithium, and also don't use cobalt or nickel.
  • A handful of Chinese auto and battery makers have started investing in commercially producing the sodium batteries.
  • If the tech takes off, sodium use in batteries could cut about 272,000 tons of lithium demand by 2035, according to BloombergNEF.

Of note: A large, 10 MWh sodium-ion battery was reportedly just plugged into the China Southern Power Grid. It's part of a larger planned 100 MWh deployment.

State of play: Bedrock isn't the only startup that sees the global momentum as a way to build next-gen tech in the U.S.

  • Last month sodium-ion battery maker Natron Energy announced that it started making batteries at its factory in Holland, Michigan.
  • The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which is supported by ARPA-E, said the factory is the "first-ever commercial-scale production of sodium-ion batteries in the U.S." The company's batteries are targeting stationary storage like for data centers or a microgrid.
  • Other startups are trying a similar playbook in Europe. The VC arm of auto giant Stellantis is investing in French sodium-ion battery startup Tiamat, which is building a battery factory in northern France.

The big picture: It's incredibly difficult for startups to commercialize new battery chemistries.

  • But the early stage of the sodium-ion battery market could make it a little easier for startups to compete.
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