Are batteries with a niobium-based anode set to gain market share?

News Analysis




Are batteries with a niobium-based anode set to gain market share?

Toshiba, Sojitz and CBMM have announced the development of a next-generation lithium-ion battery that uses niobium titanium oxide (NTO) in the anode.

The three companies have unveiled a prototype electric bus powered with the new battery, which is said to realise an ultra-fast charge time of around 10 minutes and deliver high energy density. The NTO battery-powered Volkswagen bus has started testing and demonstration operations at CBMM's industrial plant in Araxá, Brazil.

NTO has twice the theoretical volume density of the graphite-based anode generally used in lithium-ion batteries. This prompted Toshiba, Sojitz and CBMM to sign a joint agreement to explore its potential in June 2018. The parties signed a joint development agreement in September 2021, which extended their collaboration to mass production processes of next-generation batteries.

By far the world’s largest niobium producer, CBMM is keenly interested in diversifying niobium’s use cases beyond the steel industry and has invested considerably in R&D to that end. The Brazilian company aims to increase its oxide production capacity to 40ktpy from 10ktpy currently, with ambitions for 25% of its revenue to come from non-steel applications by 2030.

A large part of this growth is poised to come from batteries, both anodes and cathodes, but primarily anodes. However, while this news is a big step forward, the technology is still in its infancy and there is uncertainty regarding the potential for widescale uptake.

Project Blue’s base case sees demand for batteries increasing, although not at the rate envisaged by CBMM. In our base case, oxide applications for chemicals and batteries will account for ~15kt of niobium about 14.5% of CBMM’s expected production in 2034.