UC San Diego spin-off company receives MWh-scale purchase orders of their advanced sodium-ion batteries
UNIGRID Battery, a UC San Diego spin-off startup company and member of Cleantech San Diego’s Southern California Energy Innovation Network (SCEIN), announces that it has received its first commercial MWh-scale purchase orders for their advanced sodium ion batteries. The company was founded in 2021 from the Ph.D. research work of Dr. Darren H. S. Tan and Dr. Erik A. Wu, who were both advised by Prof. Zheng Chen and Prof. Shirley Meng, prominent figures in the battery field.
UNIGRID saw an immediate opportunity for sodium ion in North America’s residential, behind-the-meter energy storage system (ESS) market (i.e. power packs – such as Tesla’s Powerwall – that are installed in homes). They have moved quickly to scale up and produce their first product, a first-generation cylindrical cell.
“There is a massive market gap that current battery technologies cannot meet. Sodium ion is very compelling as it is a less-expensive and safer battery without the lithium supply chain uncertainties,” said UNIGRID CEO Darren H. S. Tan.
Due to this combination of properties, sodium ion batteries are emerging as the next big wave in battery technology. UNIGRID’s unique approach, the use of a tin anode instead of hard carbon, is a breakthrough for sodium-ion batteries; it increases the volumetric energy density to be competitive with and even exceed that of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, overcoming a previous competitive disadvantage.
“Tin alloy anode in sodium ion overcomes the common failure modes of silicon, such as particle cracking from volume expansion, active material losses, and capacity degradation. Tin opens up many possibilities for sodium ion,” said UNIGRID CTO Erik A. Wu.
Third party testing and validation on the advanced sodium ion batteries has been completed, and UNIGRID is on track to deliver MWh quantities of its advanced sodium ion batteries to customers in 2024. The team is currently ramping up production in San Diego, California, in order to meet the rapidly growing interest and demand for their sodium-ion batteries.
“The U.S. has massive reserves of sodium and has huge potential to strengthen our grid’s resilience. We fully expect batteries to be an essential appliance for every home, like a refrigerator, but for electrons.,” said Dr. Shirley Meng, Professor of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and Adjunct Professor of Nanoengineering at UC San Diego. Professor Meng also serves as the Chief Scientist for Argonne’s Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS).
Li-ion batteries have made great progress in enabling electric vehicles and portable devices. However, powering our nation’s grid, enabling more renewables, and driving forward a successful clean energy transition requires a diverse array of energy generation and storage technologies, and the UNIGRID team believes that sodium-ion will have a significant part to play in the energy landscape moving forward.