Are Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries the only game in town for the new wave of electric vehicles and other applications?
Until quite recently, the answer was yes
BUT they now have competition from Sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries which, though not yet commercially available, are showing great promise!
Yes, technologists discover new improvements of Li-ion batteries almost daily and Giga-factories are being built to produce them, but Li-ion batteries have problems that the Na-ion batteries can solve
Security of supply, price and safety
About 90% of the world’s supply of lithium is controlled by Chinese companies and US and EU car manufacturers are very concerned about that. Therefore, Na-ion batteries, long supposed to be only second best, gain attention
In 2019, lithium hydroxide cost $6,000 per metric tonne. Now it is $78,032!
Sodium hydroxide’s price is stable below $800 per ton. It is in ample supply, produced with chlorine by electrolysis of salt. But will the price difference be enough to ensure the future of the Na-ion battery?
Li-ion batteries have been known to catch fire and pose a safety threat we are all aware of, but Na-ion batteries do not catch fire
Li-ion batteries perform better because their energy density is higher. A key characteristic for many applications of these batteries, in particular automotive
But industry is rethinking this matter as price becomes an issue. On a second look, automotive isn’t the only application. There are stationary applications as well. And Na-ion batteries have a few advantages. They perform quite well at low temperatures, in the range of -20 degrees C
Present-day Na-ion batteries have an energy density of about 160 W h/kg, similar to that of older Li-ion batteries. (Modern Li-ion batteries attain 230 W h/kg or a bit more). At this power density, batteries generally don’t need cooling, which may be an advantage.
Faradion, one of the developers of Na-ion batteries, expect their batteries to reach an energy density level of 190 W h/kg in the next few years. This year, Faradion was bought by the Indian company Reliance Industries. They plan to build a Na-ion factory in India, for applications such as slower electric vehicles, and stationary power storage.
California-based start-up Natron Energy batteries are unique being able to deliver huge amounts of power over short durations. They are suitable as auxiliary power for industrial applications, for instance data centres
Altris, a Swedish company that intends to construct a commercial Na-ion battery plant soon
Na-ion batteries are moving from pilot- to commercial-scale production. The supply chain issues with lithium opened up the window of opportunity for them
Would you back Na-ion batteries development over Li-ion technology in the medium term?