It is possible that sodium-ion battery could be the next EV battery, but it doesn't mean that lithium-ion will leave the market

Can Sodium-Ion Replace lithium-Ion Batteries In Future Electric Vehicles?

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Wednesday, September 15, 2021 06:40 PM IST
Can Sodium-Ion Replace lithium-Ion Batteries In Future Electric Vehicles?CATL Manufacturing (Representative image)
  • China has already begun exploring an alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which is sodium-ion batteries.

    Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly confronted with concerns such as material cost and availability, as well as safety.

    As per reports, sodium in earth deposits is roughly 300 times greater than lithium and is more equally distributed; therefore has a significant cost advantage.

While electric vehicles and EV batteries are generating a lot of buzz around the world as several companies investing a huge amount of money to make it the most successful eco-friendly industry, questions have been raised about the use and replacement of lithium-ion batteries in future.

Every year, billions of lithium-ion batteries are manufactured for use in mobile phones, computers, electric vehicles and aircraft. But China has already begun exploring an alternative, which is sodium-ion batteries. If successful, this technology might lead to widespread adoption in a market that is heavily reliant on subsidies and where electric vehicle sales are still a small percentage of total vehicle sales.

The world's largest battery maker, China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, introduced its sodium-ion battery in July. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the following month that it would push for the development, standardisation and commercialisation of this type of power-pack, which would be a cheaper, faster-charging, as well as a safer alternative to the current crop, which is still plagued by a slew of issues, including faulty units catching fire.

Even though sodium-ion batteries were being researched in the 1970s, a more promising option, known as a lithium-ion battery, swiftly surpassed them in popularity. Because of their extensive use, sodium-based ones didn't find many takers and any further development was put on hold.

Carmakers and battery makers are focusing on lowering prices, which has always been a challenge. While lithium-ion batteries are one of the most important breakthroughs in the field of energy storage, they are increasingly confronted with concerns such as material cost and availability, as well as safety.

There has been a constant struggle to make sure that the battery doesn't catch fire, while the focus is to increase energy density. According to Bloomberg, scientists have been perplexed by the lack of clear solutions and what is available is insufficient to make lithium-ion scalable and financially viable for electric vehicles.

The report claimed: "The sodium-based batteries aren't going to take electric cars any further than lithium can. Not anytime soon, at least. However, the materials needed to make them are widely available."

While citing an analysis by Jefferies Group LLC analysts, the report explained that sodium in earth deposits is roughly 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent, or 300 times greater than lithium, and is more equally distributed. As a result, it has a significant cost advantage.

For example, these power packs could cost almost 30 per cent to 50 per cent less than the most affordable electric car battery solutions currently available. Furthermore, compared to lithium, the price of sodium is less vulnerable to market fluctuations, making it a more reliable indicator of global green ambitions.

The report also noted that although sodium-ion batteries have a lower energy density compared to lithium-ion batteries, they function better at lower temperatures and have a longer life cycle, making them, in principle, a superior long-term investment. The latest CATL product is predicted to have a 160 Watt-hour per kilogramme energy density and will charge to 80 per cent in 15 minutes. This is comparable to existing market batteries, which range from 140 Wh/kg to 180 and 240 Wh/kg in the top end variety.

But there are boundaries for the competitor of lithium-ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries will require a separate supply chain, as they will not be able to rely on the well-established lithium-ion supply network. On the other hand, low material costs mean lower manufacturing costs and faster sharpening of current production methods to replace older batteries.

While CATL has stated that a supply chain will be in place by 2023, other businesses, like as HiNa Battery Technology Co., are already working on projects.

Not Leaving The Market Anytime Soon

Even though options like sodium-ion batteries provide a clear path to going electric and achieving the climate change targets, the competition is still high at this moment.

According to a report by Forbes, Redwood Materials, a battery recycler founded by Tesla co-founder and former tech chief JB Straubel, has announced plans to invest more than $1 billion in an American plant that will produce materials for electric vehicle batteries, in addition to recovering valuable materials from used lithium-ion cells and electronics.

According to other reports, a New York-based company C4V has signed a supply line contract, worth more than $163 million, for over 1.16 GWh of lithium-ion batteries to power Indian electric vehicle manufacturer Omega Seiki's lineup. As reported, the contract for supply over the next five years has been signed.

However, keeping the companies or investors aside, scientists have also invested time to solve the most common problem with these batteries and researchers in Singapore found a solution to prevent lithium-ion battery fire issues.

Materials scientists in Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have discovered a way to prevent internal short-circuits, which are the leading cause of lithium-ion battery fires. Professor Xu Zhichuan and his team have developed an additional "anti-short layer" on the separator to prevent any dendrite from reaching the cathode and causing a short-circuit.

The layer is a commonly used material in battery manufacture, and it can be simply integrated into the present separator manufacturing process, making it simple for businesses to adopt and scale-up. The team believes that the cost increase after adopting this technology will be roughly 5 per cent more than the current lithium-ion battery production cost.

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