Competing with Lithium: Cheaper Sodium Batteries Catching Up

January 8, 2023

Seeking Alpha:

The Chinese battery specialist CATL has announced a new cell chemistry requiring no cobalt, nickel, or lithium. At the end of July 2021, the world’s largest battery manufacturer CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology), surprised the public with an announcement about its new sodium battery. In this battery, sodium ions move back and forth between the cathode and the anode. The energy density of 160 Wh/kg is significantly lower than that of current batteries, which can hold about 270 Wh/kg. However, the density is expected to increase to 200 Wh/kg in the next generation. There are other advantages as well. CATL’s sodium cell has excellent cold resistance (90 percent capacity at minus 20 degrees) and outstanding fast-charging capability (0 to 80 percent in 15 minutes). It is scheduled to be launched in 2023.

Dr. Qisen Huang, deputy dean of the CATL Research Institute, said that sodium-ion battery manufacturing is perfectly compatible with the lithium-ion battery production equipment and processes, and the production lines can be rapidly switched to achieve a high-production capacity. As of now, CATL has started its industrial deployment of sodium-ion batteries, and plans to form a basic industrial chain by 2023.

Advantages of sodium batteries

According to a scientific paper from 2019, the earth’s crust consists of 2.83% sodium while it consists of only 0.01% lithium. This means that sodium is available in huge quantities and, therefore, much cheaper to mine. Although the cost of EV batteries has fallen sharply since 2010, it was still $132/kWh in 2021. The Tesla Model Y has a 60 kWh battery, so the cost of the battery alone is almost $8000. Probably the actual price is less by now, but even half of $8000 would still be a lot. Current estimates suggest that sodium-based batteries will cost about $40/kWh in mass production, which would be a third of the current cost. If this is true, it would be a huge saving for manufacturers or consumers. If the energy density in these batteries is somewhat acceptable, an electric car manufacturer would have enormous cost advantages over its competitors.

The major advantage of Na-ion batteries is sustainability, which is important for a world striving to be free of carbon-based energy sources. We can foresee Na-ion batteries with hard-carbon anodes and cobalt-free cathodes as sustainable lower-cost alternatives to Li-ion batteries for applications such as short-range electric vehicles and large-scale energy storage (ESS) in a world that is increasingly being transformed to wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, which depend on battery energy storage for uninterrupted, around-the-clock, performance.

MIT Technology Review:

Solid-state batteries aren’t the only new technology to watch out for. Sodium-ion batteries also swerve sharply from lithium-ion chemistries common today. These batteries have a design similar to that of lithium-ion batteries, including a liquid electrolyte, but instead of relying on lithium, they use sodium as the main chemical ingredient. Chinese battery giant CATL reportedly plans to begin mass-producing them in 2023. 

Sodium-ion batteries may not improve performance, but they could cut costs because they rely on cheaper, more widely available materials than lithium-ion chemistries do. But it’s not clear whether these batteries will be able to meet needs for EV range and charging time, which is why several companies going after the technology, like US-based Natron, are targeting less demanding applications to start, like stationary storage or micromobility devices such as e-bikes and scooters. 


One Response to “Competing with Lithium: Cheaper Sodium Batteries Catching Up”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    EVs, schmEVs, I’m happy if we can do a lot with grid slab-based and industrial-grade front ends where energy density isn’t as critical. Also, if we lower the demand for the lighter battery tech it will make more available for the EVs.

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