Is Sodium Powering the Future?

Sodium-ion Batteries
Discover the transformative potential of sodium-ion batteries as cheaper, safer alternatives to lithium-ion batteries in the renewable energy sector.

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Exploring the potential of sodium-ion batteries

Batteries play a crucial role in the transition to clean and Renewable Energy sources, which is urgently needed around the world. However, transforming our energy supply logistics is a generational challenge that may be hampered by a scarcity of resources.

We see innovations almost every day, and occasionally a single breakthrough can have a significant impact on how we move forward. One such breakthrough has the potential to transform the energy business by providing a less expensive alternative to existing lithium-ion batteries. The sodium-ion battery (SIB).

What exactly is a sodium-ion battery?

A sodium-ion battery (SIB) is a rechargeable battery that uses Na-ions as charge carriers. It is constructed, like most other batteries, of two electrodes—an anode and a cathode—separated by an electrolyte solution that permits ions to flow between them. The materials are different, but that will be covered in another post. When the battery discharges, sodium (Na) ions move through the electrolyte from the anode to the cathode, creating an electric current. These ions return to their original locations upon charging.

How do sodium and lithium compare?

Although chemically similar, sodium-ion batteries used to have a much lower energy density than lithium-ion batteries. That was an obvious competitive drawback. However, referring to the current products on the market, it can be seen that the energy density of sodium-ion batteries is generally around 100–150 Wh/kg (ref), while that of lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries, a popular battery type, is around 120–160 Wh/kg (ref).

As a result, sodium-ion batteries today have virtually the same energy density per kilogram as LFP batteries, and their development is rapid. CATL introduced their Na-ion battery with an energy density of 160 Wh/kg in 2021, with an enhancement to 200 Wh/kg predicted for the next generation. We can therefore anticipate that sodium-ion batteries will swiftly advance.

What is the importance of sodium-ion batteries in the energy industry?

Sodium-ion batteries have the potential to transform sustainable energy storage solutions for use with renewable energy sources such as wind turbines or solar panels, which require large-scale storage options for constantly changing weather conditions.

In the consumer electronics industry, sodium-ion batteries could provide a cheaper alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries while remaining environmentally friendly.

They will also find use in electric vehicles where longer ranges aren’t as necessary, such as city cars and urban shared mobility. In fact, the first vehicle manufacturers are currently introducing and manufacturing their new sodium-ion battery powered EV models.

Consequently, sodium-ion batteries have the potential to significantly impact energy storage and transportation. This is an emerging technology to watch in the future.

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Sodium-ion battery benefits and drawbacks

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Employing SIBs

The major advantage of employing sodium-ion batteries is their widespread availability, as most countries have huge salt reserves that may be used to manufacture these cells. Furthermore, they are cost-effective because they use abundant materials; for example, while the price of lithium carbonate peaked at over $80,000 per ton in the last year, up from $6,800 in 2019, the price of sodium carbonate was and still is around $300 per ton.

Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! 

Elon Musk (2022)

This means the price of sodium carbonate is or was about 25 times lower compared to lithium carbonate. And even if prices dropped in 2023, demand is increasing, so prices are anticipated to rise once more.

Sodium batteries are also

  • nonflammable,
  • less vulnerable to low temperatures, and
  • appear to be capable of handling more charge/discharge cycles than some types of lithium-ion batteries.

Because sodium-ion batteries are less prone to overheating and catching fire, they are generally regarded as safer than lithium-ion batteries, which is a compelling argument in the EV industry.

However, sodium-ion batteries also have some disadvantages. They are still in the early stages of commercialization compared to other battery types and therefore require further research and optimization. Lower energy density in comparison to NMC-type lithium-ion batteries is a major drawback, and sodium-ion batteries are unlikely to outperform lithium-ion chemistries. They are also bigger and heavier than lithium batteries, which limits their effectiveness in applications that need a high-energy density or low weight, such as aviation.

Future outlook

As a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries are on the rise. These batteries have been available for a while, but only recently have technological breakthroughs made them practical for widespread commercial use.

Compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries, they have several benefits, including more affordable and abundant raw materials, increased safety, and higher energy density. In the future, electric vehicles and the storage of renewable energy both stand to benefit significantly from the use of sodium-ion batteries.

They can offer a more affordable and long-lasting solution, particularly for countries attempting to transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy sources. However, there is still much research to be done before this technology can be widely adopted.

Meanwhile, developers and manufacturers of sodium-ion batteries are preparing to transition from pilot- to commercial-scale production. Lithium supply chain concerns have provided the opportunity they had been looking for. Now is the time for sodium batteries to gain ground on lithium batteries in the marketplace.

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