Affected by the high cost of lithium batteries last year, sodium-ion batteries with similar structures and lower material costs are increasingly sought after by the market. Experts said that sodium-ion batteries are in the stage of market exploration and may usher in batch market applications in 2023.
1. Sodium-ion batteries are not meant to replace lithium batteries
In the late 1970s, research on sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries was carried out almost simultaneously. Similar to the working principle of lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries have remained in the laboratory stage for a long time and research progress has been slow due to difficulties in material development and limited actual demand. It was not until the past ten years that the research on sodium-ion batteries ushered in a blowout growth and accelerated industrialization in recent years.
Compared lithium vs sodium battery, sodium-ion batteries have the advantages of low theoretical cost and abundant resources. In terms of resource reserves, the underground reserves of sodium rank sixth, and the crustal abundance is as high as 2.75%, distributed all over the world. The crustal abundance of lithium is only 0.0065%, and most of them are distributed in America. Based on various material cost calculations, compared with lithium-ion batteries, the cost of sodium-ion battery materials is expected to be reduced by 30% to 40%.
From the perspective of industrial construction, sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries have the same principle, similar process, and compatible equipment. They can share most of the links in the production line, thereby reducing the cost of production line construction. However, there is a view that sodium-ion batteries are just a spare tire for high-priced lithium batteries. When lithium prices return to normal, the competitiveness of sodium-ion batteries will be greatly weakened.
The development of sodium-ion batteries has China's strategic considerations, but also has its own unique performance factors. Sodium-ion batteries are not intended to replace lithium-ion batteries, but to complement lithium-ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries have great application space in low-speed electric vehicles and small flexible energy storage, and can become a potential technology for large-scale energy storage and new energy vehicles with low and medium battery life in the future.
2. China is at the forefront of the world sodium-ion batteries field
At present, the development of sodium-ion batteries has been deployed all over the world. Recently, relevant documents proposed to focus on the low cost and high safety of batteries, and strengthen the research on cathode and anode materials such as hard carbon anode materials, electrolytes and other main materials and related auxiliary materials. Develop high-efficiency modular system integration technology to accelerate the breakthrough and large-scale application of sodium-ion battery technology.
With the proposal of the double carbon target, the demand for lithium batteries in new energy vehicles, large-scale energy storage and other fields has expanded rapidly, and several challenges faced by lithium batteries in terms of resource costs have accelerated the industrialization process of sodium-ion batteries. At the same time, the application scenarios are becoming more extensive, and it is also required to accelerate the demonstration and application of diversified energy storage technologies.
Under such circumstances, China has intensively issued relevant documents, indicating potential diversified energy storage technologies and proposing a series of development safeguard measures. This will promote the diversified development and industrialization of new energy storage technologies including sodium-ion batteries at the levels of research and exploration, pilot demonstration, commercial utilization and large-scale application. At present, China's research on sodium-ion batteries is at the forefront of the world.
3. Sodium-ion batteries will be loaded soon
Faced with the broad market prospects of sodium-ion batteries, a number of start-ups have emerged in China focusing on the research and development of sodium-ion battery materials and cells. At the same time, leading lithium battery companies in the world have also begun to deploy sodium-ion battery business on a large scale. According to incomplete statistics, there are currently more than ten lithium battery companies betting on the sodium-ion battery track.
CATL released the first generation of sodium-ion batteries and lithium-sodium hybrid battery packs in July 2021, and has repeatedly stated that it will promote the industrialization of sodium-ion batteries in 2023. EVE will release the first generation of sodium-ion batteries at the end of 2022, and is currently preparing to enter the pilot test stage. DFD sodium-ion batteries have already rolled off batches of finished products, and are undergoing various tests. At the same time, they are also promoting on-board tests at multiple car manufacturers.
In the future, production plans will be formulated according to market demand. Some experts regard 2022 as the first year of the industrialization of sodium-ion batteries. This is not only because China took the lead in realizing the mass production of sodium-ion battery cells, but also because more and more manufacturers have begun to disclose the performance indicators of their sodium-ion battery products. In this year, the industrial chains of cathode and anode materials and electrolytes for sodium-ion batteries were also initially formed.
In 2023, sodium-ion batteries will usher in mass market applications, and sodium-ion batteries will be loaded into cars. However, sodium-ion batteries are still in the exploratory stage of marketization. Although most opinions believe that they are mainly suitable for low-speed electric vehicles and energy storage, it is still up to the market to decide which application scenario will be most applicable.
4. The future of sodium ion batteries is expected
Despite their many advantages, sodium-ion battery companies in the world still face many challenges in the process of commercialization. The disadvantages of sodium-ion batteries lie in their low energy density, low technology maturity, and imperfect industrial chain. They mainly face three major challenges in the process of industrialization.
- One is how to optimize its own performance, improve technology maturity and complete reliable verification of complex application scenarios in a short period of time.
- The second is that the supply chain of the industrial chain is not perfect, and the large-scale production and stable supply channels of some active materials are lacking.
- The third is that the lack of large-scale production at the current stage makes it unable to exert its own cost advantages in the short term, and the price of lithium carbonate may also fall more than expected in the future. Under such circumstances, how to complete the penetration in potential application scenarios is very important.
For the future of sodium-ion batteries, it is necessary to focus on breaking through the technical bottlenecks of sodium-ion batteries in basic research and industrialization, effectively improve energy storage capacity, strengthen resource cost advantages, and continue to create characteristic products that meet market demand.