CATL Will Start Mass Producing Sodium Ion Batteries

CATL chairman Robin (Yuqun) Zeng said the firm would start marketing sodium-ion batteries as early as late July, 2021. CATL is the largest producer of batteries in the world.

Shares of Shandong Sacred Sun Power Sources (002580:SZ) and Inner Mongolia Lantai Industrial (600328:SH) soared by the maximum 10% in the morning trading on May 24. The two firms are key material providers essential to the domestic sodium-ion battery supply chain.

“Sodium-ion cells have a lower energy density, ~100-150Wh/kg, in comparison to lithium-ion cells’, 330Wh/kg,” says James Frith, head of energy storage at BloombergNEF, “So expect them to be used to replace lead-acid initially, in applications such as back-up power and two and three-wheelers.

“In the long run, stationary storage markets could be suitable for sodium-ion deployments.”

UK battery maker Faradion’s has proprietary Faraday Institution – Sodium-ion Batteries: Inexpensive and Sustainable Energy Storage

Sodium-ion batteries (NIBs) are attractive prospects for stationary storage applications where lifetime operational cost, not weight or volume, is the overriding factor. Recent improvements in performance, particularly in energy density, mean NIBs are reaching the level necessary to justify the exploration of commercial scaleup.

NIBs are most likely to compete with existing lead-acid and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. However, before this can happen, developers must reduce cost by: (1) improving technical performance; (2) establishing supply chains; and (3) achieving economies of scale. Due to an immature supply chain, NIB companies currently produce cells in relatively small batches.

NOTE: the recent CATL commitment means that the supply chain and scaling of sodium-ion batteries is happening.

Up to 30% Cheaper Than Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries

After production is scaled up, sodium ion batteries may have a certain cost advantage due to the low cost of raw materials, but they are inferior to lithium-ion batteries in electrochemical performance.

NIBs should become less expensive than LIBs as sodium’s abundance and ubiquity ensures an economical and predictable supply of raw materials. Sodium is the seventh most abundant element and 1,200 times more common than lithium.

Sodium compounds are synthesised from seawater and limestone, via established processes.

This means that there are no concerns about the scarcity of sodium, and likely to be many possible suppliers. In the future, a secure supply and a predictable price seem likely.

NIB cells also need no copper current collectors, which are a necessary and expensive component in many LIBs. NIB manufacturers replace dense and expensive copper with lighter aluminium, which reduces cost. In addition, NIBs do not use cobalt, a scarce and expensive metal used in high energy density LIBs. The majority of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where unregulated mining can cause social issues.

The bill-of-materials for NIB could be 20-30% lower than for LFP LIBs once production and economies of scale reach similar levels.

Improving the energy storage, power and lifetime characteristics should further lower costs.

Safety

NIBs offer safety advantages over LIBs, making them easier to transport and more attractive for safety-critical applications. Specifically, manufacturers can transport NIBs with the battery terminals directly connected and the voltage held at zero.

As the battery remains fully discharged, the risk of fire is significantly reduced and expensive safety mitigation measures are not necessary, reducing the cost of transportation.

In contrast, the copper current collectors of most LIBs start to dissolve at zero volts, so manufacturers have to transport LIBs in a partially charged state. The presence of this stored energy creates a safety risk while in transit. Moreover, if users do not treat LIBs with care, current collector dissolution can still occur and lead to performance degradation, internal short-circuiting, and even fire. These problems do not arise in NIBs.

Sodium-ion electrolytes also have a higher flash point (defined as the minimum temperature where a chemical can vaporise to form an ignitable mixture with the air) than conventional lithium-ion chemistries. Thus, sodium-ion electrolytes are less likely to ignite, further reducing the fire risk.

Existing Battery Factories Can Make NIB

While sodium-ion and lithium-ion active material compositions are different, they are synthesised and handled in similar ways, with the production process largely the same. Existing lithium-ion battery plants and cell formats can therefore be used to manufacture NIBs

SOURCES – Faraday Institute, Equal Ocean
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

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