With the rapid and continuous growth of the global EV and energy storage industries, lithium resources, as the core raw material, are becoming an important factor affecting the development of the industry due to the mismatch between supply and demand and economic problems.
1. Sodium-ion battery industry chain
Sodium resources are abundant, compared to lithium batteries. Its advantages are better low temperature performance, performance and economy, and the disadvantages are cycle life and energy density.
At present, the application scenarios of sodium ion batteries are gradually becoming clearer, and it is expected to become an effective supplement to lithium batteries in the fields of energy storage, commercial vehicles and some passenger cars.
By 2023, the industrialization trend of sodium batteries will be clear. The number of participants in the industrial chain will increase, traditional lithium battery manufacturers will come down, and new players will enter one after another.
Especially, the top 10 lithium battery companies in the world will be attracted to participate in the layout in the future, which is conducive to multi-party cooperation to promote the industrialization process of sodium ion batteries.
The structure of the sodium ion battery industry chain is similar to that of lithium batteries, including upstream resource companies, midstream battery materials, and battery cell companies.
● Raw material resources
The sodium ion battery industry chain is an upstream raw material. Since the raw materials required are completely different from lithium-ion batteries, it is expected to help a number of traditional chemical companies transform into new energy.
And under high standards of battery consistency and safety, cost control and high-quality purification technology will become the keys to success.
● Battery material resources
The midstream battery materials of sodium batteries follow the pattern of lithium batteries. The core advantage of sodium batteries is in the cost of materials, and the cost of sodium battery cells at this stage is 0.8–0.9 RMB per Wh, which has no advantage over lifepo4 batteries and is mainly limited by immature production technology and an imperfect industrial chain.
However, with the maturity of the process and the complete industrial chain, the cost is expected to drop below 0.5 RMB / Wh, which has obvious advantages over lithium iron phosphate batteries.
From the perspective of the overall industry structure, due to the similar structure, the traditional lithium battery material leader has a first-mover advantage.
2. Battery material - cathode
The main technical solutions for sodium cathode are divided into three categories: layered oxides, Prussian blue and Prussian white (analogues of Prussian blue), and polyanions.
The three technical paths of sodium ion battery cathode materials have their own advantages and disadvantages, and it is expected to maintain the pattern of coexistence of multiple paths and meet the needs of different scenarios.
● Prussian blue
Among the three cathode material paths, the Prussian blue analog is a unique sodium battery system that requires specific industrialization support. The layered metal oxides and polyanionic compounds are the same systems as ternary batteries and lithium iron phosphate batteries, respectively, all of which have a good industrialization foundation.
Traditional lithium power plants, cathode material manufacturers, and scientific and technological innovation teams focusing on sodium power research have a layout for sodium electric cathodes, and progress is progressing smoothly.
Prussian blue cathode materials are mainly cost-effective and are expected to be applied to large-scale energy storage scenarios, with advantages such as adjustable operating voltage, high reversible specific capacity, and low synthesis temperature. The disadvantage is that crystalline water is difficult to control during mass production, which affects cycle performance.
● Layered oxides
The maturity of layered oxides is relatively high, and the overall performance is excellent. The main manufacturers of this route is EVE.
Polyanionic materials have a stable structure and a long cycle life, but they have high costs and poor energy density. The most studied include sodium iron phosphate, sodium vanadium fluorophosphate and sodium vanadium phosphate (vanadium is expensive and toxic).
3. Battery material - anode
The anode uses amorphous soft carbon and hard carbon materials, and the hard carbon has superior specific capacity performance, which has the potential to develop high energy density sodium batteries, but the cost remains high at this stage.
The source of hard carbon precursors, batch consistency, and process adaptability of anode materials are extremely difficult to break through, which is a key link restricting their industrialization.
Currently, most anode plants are actively deploying hard carbon routes. From public information and company announcements, traditional lithium battery anode companies have a technical layout of hard carbon material anodes. And its sodium electric anode materials have achieved mass sales.
Soft carbon precursors are relatively inexpensive. The current collector (aluminum foil, electrolyte, separator, battery packaging, etc.) of sodium ion batteries can reuse the industrial chain of lithium-ion batteries, and the industrialization foundation is good.
● Battery link resources
The structure of the sodium-ion battery industry chain is similar to that of lithium batteries, which can be divided into three categories: cylindrical, prismatic and pouch.
Its production process is also highly overlapping with lithium batteries, and the existing lithium-ion battery assembly line can be used to produce sodium-ion batteries after a slight modification, and the industrial chain with a perfect lithium battery foundation provides a good foundation for the industrialization of sodium batteries.
The production process of sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries is basically similar, and the traditional lithium-ion battery production line can be debugged and converted.
4. The market pattern of battery segments
Nearly 30 companies have deployed sodium-ion batteries, and industrial applications include energy storage and electric vehicles. Because the principle and structure of sodium electricity are similar to lithium batteries, lithium battery faucets have first-mover advantages.
Moreover, CATL has the advantages of rapid large-scale start-up volume and stable customer structure, so it leads the trend of the sodium battery industry. In July 2021, lithium battery leader CATL announced the first generation of commercial sodium-ion batteries
It is expected that the sodium power industry chain will be basically formed in 2023. The first large-scale mass production line of sodium-ion batteries, with a planned capacity of 5 GWh and the first phase of 1 GWh, will be officially put into operation in 2022.
Production starts in 2022 and expands to 10 GWh in 2023. At the material end, the supply of anode and cathode materials for sodium batteries can be realized; At the cell end, the sodium-ion cell production line has been officially put into production, positioning the energy storage market.
Other manufacturers are also continuing their efforts to industrialize sodium ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries are currently in the pilot phase, which is a nickel-iron-manganese layered oxide plus hard carbon system, and the performance level of sodium-ion batteries tested internally is excellent.
The mass specific capacity of the cathode material at the small test level is 140 mAh/g, the specific capacity of the anode material is 300 mAh/g, the energy density of the monomer cell is 145 Wh/kg, the number of cycles is 4000, and the capacity retention rate is greater than 88% in an environment of -20 degrees Celsius.
5. Battery industrial application
The application of lithium battery companies and four wheeled vehicles has accelerated the market consensus on the industrialization of sodium electricity.
● Two-wheeler field
In the field of two-wheelers, sodium-ion batteries are the first to be rapidly replaced by higher-performance, higher-cost alternatives to lead-acid and lithium batteries.
● User-side energy storage
With the advantages of safety and low temperature resistance, the energy storage field is the first to be applied in the field of home energy storage with low requirements for energy density and cycle life, and is expected to cover 65% of the pure electric passenger car market through sodium-lithium hybrid technology.
● Current problems
Sodium-ion batteries also face some problems: Battery raw materials and anode and cathode matching have not yet entered the large-scale supply chain. Material costs are difficult to control.
There is little room for improvement in energy density and fierce competition for multiple energy storage methods (hydrogen fuel cells, vanadium batteries, flywheel energy storage, etc.).
In short, against the backdrop of global lithium resource scarcity, sodium-ion batteries are expected to usher in historical development opportunities due to the increasing security of supply and cost reduction requirements of the entire industry.