Compared with ternary lithium batteries, lifepo4 battery avoids the constraints of nickel, cobalt and other metal elements, but cannot avoid the constraints of lithium elements.
The price of lithium-related minerals has skyrocketed. In the long run, there will be no shortage of lithium minerals, but the huge fluctuations in the short and medium term still have a great impact on the industrial chain, especially on the industry leader Ningde era. In this case, a countermeasure is needed, that is, sodium-ion batteries that do not require lithium.
1. What are the main challenges of battery technology
The main challenges of sodium-ion batteries are viewed from the following aspects:
● Cost of scale
Theoretically, sodium-ion batteries can reduce costs, which refers to the maturity and scale of the industry. For now, the cost of sodium-ion batteries is still higher than that of lithium-ion batteries.
● Technical support
Sodium-ion batteries have some excellent characteristics, such as over-discharge to 0V and better thermal safety. This means that the requirements for current battery management technologies can be reduced, thereby reducing the disadvantage in energy density.
● Industrial chain
From minerals to power batteries, this is a long industrial chain. In the upstream of battery companies, top 10 lithium battery companies in the world have also emerged, which jointly form an industrial chain and make the entire process run efficiently. Sodium-ion batteries have wrong demand for minerals and different requirements for processes, and it also takes time to form a new industrial chain in order to operate efficiently and truly achieve the goal of reducing costs.
● Improved technical principles
The cathode material, anode material, and electrolyte of sodium ions are different, which requires research and development. This part is not a technical difficulty, and it can now be used, that is, normal iterative improvement, from the engineering to achieve the goal of reducing costs.
2. The price of lithium carbonate is the touchstone of sodium electricity value
It is understood that the research of sodium-ion batteries can be traced back to the 80s of the last century, almost at the same time as lithium-ion batteries, but limited by technical bottlenecks, its research once stagnated. It was not until 2000 that the discovery of hard carbon anode materials made the research and development of sodium-ion batteries active again.
After several rounds of problems such as the price increase of lithium-ion battery raw materials, the advantages of sodium-ion batteries such as low price and no resource restrictions have gradually become prominent, and they have achieved rapid development as an alternative technology route for lithium-ion batteries.
In 2021, CATL, a leading battery company, released the first generation of sodium-ion batteries, which quickly heated the market's enthusiasm for sodium-ion batteries. According to incomplete statistics in the industry, at present, there are more than 100 companies engaged in the research and development layout of sodium-ion batteries.
However, the rapid change of the market exceeded industry expectations, and this year, the price of lithium battery raw materials fell off a cliff. Market concern: If the price of lithium carbonate continues to fall, sodium-ion batteries will lose their maximum cost advantage. When the price of lithium carbonate falls, the nickel source of the main cost of sodium-ion batteries will also fall accordingly. In the long run, sodium-ion batteries still have a cost advantage.
3. The breakthrough of the market has not yet been completed
In fact, 2023 has always been considered the first year of the development of sodium-ion batteries, and the top 10 sodium-ion battery companies in the world have announced the start of mass production in this year. In February this year, the industry's first sodium-ion battery test vehicle was equipped with sodium battery loading test.
Although sodium-ion batteries are compatible with production equipment using lithium-ion batteries, the industry has not yet developed a sound supply chain. It is reported that there are many technical routes for sodium-ion batteries, for example, cathode materials can be divided into layered transition metal oxides, polyanionic materials, prussian blue (white) compounds.
The anode is mainly used in soft carbon and hard carbon materials. At present, sodium-ion batteries do not have a unified morphological consensus, which affects the speed of mass production. Different technical routes also make the voltage platform of sodium-ion batteries different, forcing application companies to choose multi-model inverters to adapt and develop more complex BMS power management systems.
The biggest problem facing the application of sodium-ion batteries is low energy density, the current energy density of sodium-ion cells is about 300Wh/kg, and the energy density of lithium iron phosphate batteries is 360Wh/kg-380Wh/kg, the former still has a lot of room for technological progress. The sodium-ion battery industry is far from completing its breakthrough, and it will take 3-5 years to reach the scale of 100 GWh.
4. Find the right space for your application
In this huge market capacity, lithium-ion batteries will be supplemented by other technical routes. Sodium-ion batteries can not only compete from the price, but also find advantages and find suitable fields. Sodium-ion batteries have the advantages of long life, wide temperature zone, high rate, high safety, low cost, and can be collinear with lithium-ion batteries, which is the real driving force for industrial development.
Sodium-ion batteries can replace lead-acid batteries downward, and can be used as a supplement to lithium iron phosphate batteries. Sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries will coexist for a long time, but the division of labor and application will be different at different stages, and some fields must use lithium, and some can use sodium.
For example, lithium battery uninterruptible power supply (UPS) has not been promoted on a large scale because of everyone's concerns about lithium battery safety, and many power sources are basically lead-acid batteries. In the future, sodium-ion batteries are expected to replace lead-acid batteries and are used in UPS, data centers, low-speed electric vehicles and other fields.
The basis for supporting future market expectations is cost. There are three main aspects of cost reduction: at the material level, materials including cathode, anode and electrolyte core need to be matched by the entire industrial chain. In the manufacture of battery cells, we can refer to the limit of lithium-ion battery manufacturing and adopt innovative manufacturing equipment; In terms of mass production, it is necessary to reduce costs through scale.
From the performance point of view, the main weakness of sodium-ion batteries lies in energy density, but they are better in cost, low temperature, fast charging, and thermal stability. From the perspective of energy storage, sodium-ion batteries have advantages.
In addition, sodium-ion batteries can also be applied to electric vehicles with medium and low range. Before the mass production of sodium-ion batteries with higher energy density, the first generation of sodium-ion batteries can at least be able to get on the car with a battery mix-and-match scheme, so that sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries complement each other.