Will Sodium Batteries Replace Lithium Batteries?

In July 2021, a press conference in CATL pushed the sodium-ion battery technology from behind the scenes to the front of the stage. According to the plan of the CATL the sodium-ion battery industry chain will be built and industrialized in 2023. The increasingly popular concept of energy storage has made sodium-ion batteries instantly the brightest star sought after by the energy storage circle and the investment community.

In fact, basic scientific research on sodium-ion batteries has been carried out for many years.

In 1979, French scientist Armand proposed the concept of “rocking chair battery” and started the research on lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries. Since then, the research on sodium-ion batteries has stagnated. It was not until 2000 that the discovery of hard carbon anode materials ushered in a turning point for sodium-ion batteries.

Reducing dependence on lithium resources and developing new low-cost and high-safety battery systems have always been the driving force behind the inexhaustible exploration of sodium batteries. However, the large ion radius means that sodium batteries have innate shortcomings in energy density. As a result, backup power supplies, low-speed electric vehicles, energy storage, and all other scenarios where lead-acid batteries are being used will become the home field that sodium batteries will soon occupy. In other words, sodium batteries are very likely to replace lead-acid batteries. So, will sodium batteries replace lithium batteries? “In this article, we will give our points of views for this question. Before we give out the answer, we need to know something about sodium battery.

Is the sodium-ion battery technology mature?

It is understood that sodium-ion batteries, like lithium batteries, are composed of a positive electrode, a negative electrode, an electrolyte and a diaphragm. Compared with lithium ions, sodium ions are larger in size and have more stringent requirements in terms of material structure stability and kinetic properties. This is also the reason why sodium-ion batteries have been difficult to commercialize.

What is the difference between the manufacturing equipment of sodium batteries and lithium batteries?
The manufacturing equipment of the two materials is almost the same. The only difference is to change the raw materials used to make the battery. The ternary materials of lithium batteries or lithium cobalt oxide(LCO) are all controlled by engineering electricity and solid phase methods. The raw materials invested in the cathode material production line are mainly lithium carbonate, nickel oxide, benzene acid or metal salt plus lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide. The metal salt in the sodium battery remains unchanged, that is, lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide is replaced with sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide, but the entire synthesis process is the same.

For positive electrode manufacturers, the current lithium battery positive electrode production equipment can be basically used, but some adjustments need to be made to the specific production parameters and conditions. But the equipment is basically the same. The difference in graphite will not be too big. The electrolyte is basically similar, that is, the dissolved LiPF6 is replaced with NaPF6, but it is not much different from the entire lithium battery production line.

Will sodium batteries replace lithium batteries?

No, it is generally believed in the industry that sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries are complementary to each other rather than substitutes. Due to the low energy density of sodium-ion batteries, they are more suitable for use in medium and low-speed electric vehicles and large-scale energy storage.

As the industry increases investment, the technology matures, and the industrial chain gradually improves, cost-effective sodium-ion batteries are expected to become an important supplement to lithium-ion batteries, especially in the field of fixed energy storage. It has good development prospects.

The requirements for batteries are mainly divided into higher capacity, faster charging speed, safer and lower cost dimensions. In his view, except for the temporary inability to meet the higher capacity, other aspects are the advantages of sodium-ion batteries. At this stage, sodium-ion battery products will be mainly used in application scenarios below 150 watt-hours/kg, which can alleviate the limited development of energy storage batteries due to the shortage of lithium resources to a certain extent.

“There is no obvious bottleneck in the large-scale mass production of sodium-ion batteries, and they will quickly seize the market with their own characteristics in specific markets. ”Sodium-ion batteries are positioned as the most economical high-safety energy storage batteries. After large-scale production, the performance of lithium-ion batteries will be realized at the price of lead-acid batteries.

The development of sodium-ion batteries is a process of self-breakthrough. Sodium-ion batteries will inevitably face off with lithium batteries in the end, competing for competitiveness and snatching the market. Although the CATL has given a clear timetable, the industrialization of sodium-ion batteries also needs to overcome the difficulties of technical performance, industrial chain, mass production and cost.

The innate lack of energy density of sodium-ion batteries is well known, and the continuous optimization efforts have never stopped. Increasing the energy density from 160Wh/kg to 200Wh/kg has become the research and development goal of the second generation of sodium-ion batteries in the CATL.

How long will it take for the industrialization of sodium batteries?

For energy storage applications, the importance of improving cycle life cannot be ignored. According to the published information, the cycle life of existing sodium-ion batteries can reach 5,000 times, but it is still much lower than the current cycle life of commercial lithium iron phosphate batteries of 8,000-10,000 times. If sodium-ion batteries want to become the backbone of the energy storage field, they still need to continue to experience in terms of technical performance.

Industrial chain:

According to the information disclosed by various enterprises, the production of sodium-ion batteries can basically follow the lithium battery production equipment that has been mature and applied. There are no major differences in the key processes in each link, and the deployment of production capacity can be quickly realized. However, in terms of key raw materials such as positive electrode, negative electrode, diaphragm, electrolyte, and collector, because brand new sodium-based materials are involved, it is necessary to develop new materials and build a brand new industrial chain system.

Mass production and cost reduction:

Building production lines, increasing production capacity, and achieving stable mass production are the 9981 difficulties that any technology industrialization must experience, and the experience of sodium-ion batteries has just begun. Low raw material prices are the core advantage of sodium-ion batteries to reduce costs. Before the industrial chain and production system were sound, the cost of sodium batteries did not have an advantage over lithium batteries.