The Sodium-Ion Battery Is Coming To Production Cars This Year

Lithium is abundant, but difficult to extract and purify for use in batteries. Last year, the price of lithium carbonate peaked at over $80,000 per ton, although it has come down considerably since then. Oddly enough, people who don’t bat an eye about oil and gas wells within a few feet of homes and schools are losing their minds about the horrors of lithium mining. It should be noted that no lithium mining takes place next door to homes and schools, but common sense and logic are not prevalent among the fossil fuel crowd.

Sodium is also abundant, but unlike lithium, is readily available. For instance, the price of sodium carbonate is around $300 per ton today. Sodium — one of the primary components of table salt — is chemically similar to lithium, and thanks to the explosion in lithium carbonate prices, many companies are researching ways to use it to replace lithium in the batteries for electric vehicles.

Despite being chemically similar, sodium-ion batteries today have considerably lower energy density than lithium batteries. That’s a detriment, but bear in mind that not too long ago, LFP batteries were woefully deficient in their energy storage capability. But today’s LFP batteries are nearly as energy dense as lithium-ion batteries were just a few years ago. Things are moving quickly in battery development. The sodium-ion batteries available today will likely improve just as quickly.

On the other hand, sodium batteries are much less affected by low temperatures and appear to be able to handle more charge/discharge cycles than lithium-ion batteries. The latest sodium batteries do not require scarce materials like cobalt and nickel. Both CATL and BYD say they are about to introduce EV battery packs that have a mix of lithium-ion and sodium-ion cells. The thinking is the sodium cells will address the low temperature performance issue and the lithium cells will take care of the need for good performance in daily driving.

At the Shanghai auto show this week, CATL said its sodium-ion batteries will be installed in the Chery iCAR due to go on sale by the end of this year, according to CnEVPostBYD sources say its sodium-ion battery will also be in mass production in the second half of the year beginning with the Seagull. BYD introduced the Seagull in Shanghai this week. Fitted with LFP batteries, it is available in three versions with pre-sale prices of $11,450, $12,200, and $14,000 respectively. The new models use BYD’s Blade batteries of 30.08 kWh and 38.88 kWh capacity. Prices for cars equipped with sodium-ion batteries have not yet been announced.

Of the 20 sodium battery factories now planned or already under construction around the world, 16 are in China, according to Benchmark Minerals, a consulting firm. In two years, China will have nearly 95 percent of the world’s capacity to make sodium batteries. Lithium battery production will still dwarf sodium battery output at that point, Benchmark predicts, but advances in sodium are accelerating.

There is one problem for China, however when it comes to manufacturing sodium batteries. It controls much of the sources for lithium worldwide, but has little access to the soda ash that is the source for the sodium needed to manufacture batteries.


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