The energy transition has led to a growing need for cleaner and more efficient battery technologies. In this sense, the sodium ion battery has recently received significant attention as a possible alternative to current lithium batteries. Can sodium batteries, whose energy density and weight were once considered a disadvantage, revolutionize the electric vehicle industry? Today, we explore the pros and cons of this emerging technology, how it works, and the manufacturers already producing it.
The sodium battery is a promising technology due to its availability and low cost compared to lithium used in most lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, sodium is much more stable, which means it is less prone to safety issues. Another advantage is its longevity and resistance to temperature variations, which can reduce the environmental impact of battery disposal. However, their energy density is lower than that of lithium-ion batteries, which means they need more space to store the same amount of energy, and their weight can negatively affect the range of electric vehicles.
CATL is a leading manufacturer of large-scale sodium batteries, along with HiNa and Natron Energy, among others. BYD has launched the world’s first sodium battery electric car, the Hua Xianzi, and is pushing ahead with an electric car for the city that will cost less than €10,000 with a small battery. Although the sodium battery cannot replace lithium in the short term, it is already there as a good alternative to complement lithium-ion battery technology, especially if raw material prices continue to rise.
How does a sodium battery work?
A sodium battery works like a lithium-ion battery, but instead of lithium ions, it uses sodium ions to store and release energy. The battery consists of two electrodes (a cathode and an anode) and an electrolyte.
During battery charging, sodium ions flow from the electrolyte to the cathode and are deposited there. At the same time, electrons move from the anode to the cathode through the external circuit, which produces electric current. During battery discharge, sodium ions return to the anode and stored electrons are released, producing energy.
The sodium battery charging and discharging process is reversible, allowing continuous use. Additionally, the sodium battery is more stable than the lithium battery, which means it is less prone to overheating or other safety issues.
Advantages of sodium batteries.
Sodium batteries have several advantages over lithium-ion batteries and other battery technologies. Some of these benefits include:
- low cost: Sodium is a much more abundant and cheaper element than lithium, which makes sodium batteries cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries.
- Stability: Sodium batteries are more stable than lithium batteries and are less likely to overheat and cause fires.
- Longevity: Sodium batteries have a longer life than lithium batteries, which means they need to be replaced less frequently.
- Resistance to temperature variations: Sodium batteries are more resistant to temperature fluctuations, which means that their energy storage capacity is more constant across different temperature ranges.
- Recyclable: Sodium is an abundant and recyclable element, which means that sodium batteries can be more durable in the long term.
- Availablity: Sodium is widely available around the world, which means that sodium batteries could be a viable option in areas where lithium batteries are harder to find or more expensive.
Sodium batteries have the potential to be a cheaper and longer lasting alternative to lithium-ion batteries. in a variety of applications including electric vehicles and energy storage.
Disadvantages of sodium batteries
Although sodium batteries have several advantages, they also have some disadvantages that must be considered. Some of these disadvantages include:
- low energy density: They have a lower energy density than lithium-ion batteries, which means they need more space to store the same amount of energy.
- more weight: They are generally heavier than lithium-ion batteries, which can affect the range and portability of electric vehicles in other applications.
- developing technology: The technology is still under development, which means that there are still technical challenges to overcome, such as increasing energy density and reducing weight.
- Less available on the market: Sodium batteries are not yet as commercially available as lithium-ion batteries, which may make them harder to find or more expensive in some places.
- temperature limits– Although sodium batteries are more resistant to temperature variations than lithium batteries, they may still have temperature limitations which may affect their performance in certain temperature ranges.
The sodium battery has the potential to revolutionize the electric vehicle industry by overcoming some of the greatest challenges posed by the use of lithium-ion batteries. With the continuous development of technology, the sodium battery could appear in mid-range production cars from 2025 or 2026. In addition, other avenues are being explored, such as 3D printing of sodium batteries, which could give way to a new technological leap.