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GE to Open Sodium-Metal Halide Battery Plant in New York

GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt shows a sodium-metal halide battery cell at the press conference announcing the battery plant. Click to enlarge.

GE will open a new battery manufacturing plant in Upstate New York that will serve as the main manufacturing facility for GE’s newly launched battery business. The battery business will be a part of GE Transportation and will serve customers in the rail, marine, mining, telecommunications and utility sectors.

GE says the planned facility will produce approximately 10 million sodium-metal halide cells each year—equivalent to 900 MWh of energy storage, or enough to support 1,000 GE hybrid locomotives. The first application will be GE’s hybrid locomotive, which will be commercialized in 2010. (Earlier post.)

Battery Requirements for Hybrid Locomotives
At the AABC 2008 conference, Robert King from GE Global Research outlined requirements and challenges for hybrid locomotive batteries, including:
  • 1,300 kW continuous chare/discharge power
  • ~1,000 kWh useable energy
  • high utilization
  • drive cycle requiring supplying and receiving high power for minutes to hours
  • ambient temperatures from -40 °C to +55 °C
  • shock arising from train coupling buff forces
  • vibration resulting from heavy-duty diesel and steel wheel and rail
  • weight and volume constraints
  • 20-year useful life

The initial investment in the factory will be $100 million. The announcement coincides with GE’s submission this week for federal stimulus dollars from the US Department of Energy. GE hopes that with the acceleration provided by stimulus funds, it will select the exact location and break ground on the plant this year and be in full production in 2011, said Mark Little, Senior Vice President at GE Research.

GE has invested more than $150 million to develop advanced battery technologies, including the high-energy density, sodium-based chemistry battery that will provide energy storage for several future product applications. The batteries have some 30 patents associated with them, with more coming, Little said.

In addition to the internal locomotive application, GE has launch customers in several industries, including mining, telecommunications and utility, with key applications for heavy service vehicles, backup storage and load leveling for the smart grid. (Earlier post.)

This investment in sodium battery technology complements GE’s investment in A123Systems, a leading supplier of lithium-ion batteries, said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt during a press conference at GE Global Research Center.

We really believe that lithium provides power, sodium provides storage and the combination of these two technologies will find great fits, perhaps even in plug in electric vehicles over time. This gives GE a real portfolio advantage in technology and innovation. We like that.

—Jeff Immelt

GE has been exploring a “dual-battery” concept—optimized power and energy storage systems—with Chrysler for plug-in vehicles under a DOE-funded project. (Earlier post.) Of the dual-battery concept, Glen Merfeld, lab manager for the Chemical Energy Systems Lab at GE Global Research wrote:

Lithium-ion batteries, which are most often discussed for passenger cars, deliver a lot of power for acceleration but are less optimized in providing capacity for range. Sodium batteries are just the opposite…. It is believed combining these two types of batteries into one system can help achieve an optimal balance of acceleration and electric range, while minimizing the size and cost of the energy storage system and maximizing life. Moreover, this type of system could play broadly across the transportation sector from locomotives and heavy-duty mining trucks, to buses, SUVs and passenger car applications.

Immelt said that GE expected to generate about $500 million in sales from its batteries by 2015, building forward to a $1-billion franchise over time.

We never think small about anything we do, and we’re not thinking small about where this technology goes and the impact it can have.

—Jeff Immelt

GE said it selected New York for the manufacturing plant because of strong support from New York state officials, specifically Governor David Paterson and Dennis Mullen, President of the Upstate Empire State Development Corporation. The new factory also will have the advantage of being in close proximity to GE Global Research in Niskayuna, where advances to the battery chemistry were developed. The batteries will rely heavily on new materials, new manufacturing technologies and intelligent controls.



Using sodium instead of lithium is exactly where we need to be going in terms of cost reductions / security of supply etc.


What are the advantages over current technology?

Account Deleted

According to this article the sodium batteries cost 3000 to 4000 USD per kWh so they are far more expensive than lithium batteries.

Also they only function at 300 degree Celsius or more and their self discharge rate is much higher than lithium batteries. However, their calendar life could be longer than lithium batteries with GE claiming 20 years for their new battery.

For EVs (apart from trains) they are a dead end also because they can’t fast charge like lithium batteries can.



Thanks for the insight and link. Those are some high-cost batteries.


Just to clarify my comment, I don't think sodium metal halide is the answer (although the Zebra batteries are cost-effective in some apps).

Instead I think using cheap abundant elements like sodium, carbon, sulphur, chlorine etc in novel (yet to be discovered) combinations and chemistries would be better for the EV industry than relying on less abundant, more expensive options such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel etc.


Nickle is abundant and relatively cheap. It is estimated about 140 million tons of nickel is available in identified deposits. Eighty-four million tons, or 60 percent of the total available nickel is in laterite deposits. A deposit in which rain and surface water leached nickel-rich rock and concentrated the nickel at or near the surface of the Earth is a laterite deposit. Nickel sulfide deposits contain the remaining forty percent (56 million tons).

Raney nickel makes a useful catalyst. Especially in energy systems able to produce more heat than E-in.

Henry Gibson

It is interesting that nobody has mentioned that these are the same type batteries that are being used in many TH!NK cars. If you have a place to keep your battery charging every day or at least every three days these hot batteries will work for you. They have very low losses compared to lithium batteries, and are equal or better than lithium according to the TH!NK website. There is no difficulty in cooling them as very hot air or oil can cool them and they can be made into large battery packs with voltages equal to the needed voltage for the motors. Many cell failures can be ignored because they usually fail shorted and the current will pass right through. They work very well in the coldest of climates because they are already as well insulated as possible, and there is no climate that is hot enough that they cannot be cooled with the hottest of air.

The materials are not very expensive, but up till now the manufacturing has been done on a very small scale at high cost. Some of the nickel has been replaced by iron, and there is no question but that most of it could be for lower performance. The amount of nickel used relative to the manufacturing cost does not make it economic to replace it and get lower performance.

I must congratulate MES-DEA for keeping the batteries on the market until GE found out their value. AEG missed a good chance. I will also thank the workers at Beta Research who spent many years developing and improving these cells so that they could be commercialised and tested for many years in cars and buses. It is curious that some of them worked for British Rail. The ROLLS-ROYCE Company must be thanked for putting them in their product line many years ago for sea-going water craft of all kinds, including submarines and a submarine rescue vehicle.

If anybody from GE reads this, I ask them for cell number 1000 for my many years of promoting the use of the ZEBRA battery. Wikipedia now needs to be updated.

Ford motor company developed the Beta alumina solid electrolyte (BASE) as a response to the first oil crisis, and should be thanked for their effort. The BASE electrolyte has also been used to generate electricity from any kind of heat at high temperatures. NGK has been making the BASE electrolyte for many years for its similar line of sodium sulphur batteries used for power reliability. And NGK should be thanked for keeping the Ford project alive and producing the solid electrolyte and batteries. Sodium sulphur batteries can burn and are not as well suited for moving vehicles.

No highly dangerous chemicals are present when the cells are filled with high purity table-salt, aluminium powder, iron powder and nickel powder. The cells are then sealed and heated for their first charge. If the cells are cooled to room temperature, they will retain their charge until heated up or destroyed.

Look out GreenGoats you have a mainline competitor and you could be retrofitted to go 100 Km without running an engine. These hybrid locomotives will be able to operate for thousands of meters without starting an engine. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

The question of what to keep in a Gazebo is now answered: A GE-ZEBRA.

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