When it comes to EV technology, the focus is firmly on the advancements in battery technology, particularly sodium-nickel batteries. A factory in Changxing County, Zhejiang Province of China has drawn attention for its thriving production line. This attention indicates a rising interest in sodium-based battery technology within the industry. Sodium, a material found abundantly in rock salts and brines, is emerging as a potential alternative to lithium for energy storage and electric vehicles.
According to some news articles, sodium-ion batteries are gaining attention as a potential alternative to lithium-ion batteries, because sodium is cheaper and more abundant than lithium, and does not require the use of scarce and pricey elements such as cobalt and nickel. Sodium-ion batteries also have potential safety benefits over lithium-ion batteries, as they are less prone to overheating and catching fire. However, sodium-ion batteries are still in the early stages of development and face several challenges, such as:
Lack of a well-established supply chain for the materials used in the batteries4.
Limitations of flexibility and shape of the batteries, as sodium-ion batteries cannot be turned into various shapes like prismatic, cylindrical, etc5.
Lower energy density and slower intercalation kinetics than lithium-ion batteries, which means they can store less energy and charge and discharge more slowly56.
Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are the dominant type of battery for EVs, as they offer superior energy density, enabling drivers to travel further between charges. Lithium-ion batteries also have a longer cycle life and higher efficiency than sodium-ion batteries. However, lithium-ion batteries also have some drawbacks, such as:
High cost and environmental impact of lithium and other elements used in the batteries, which are unevenly distributed and have high extraction and refining costs45.
Risk of thermal runaway and fire, especially when the batteries are damaged or overcharged56.
Degradation of performance and capacity over time, especially when exposed to high temperatures or deep discharges56.
Therefore, sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries have different pros and cons for EVs, and the choice of the best battery technology may depend on various factors, such as the availability and price of the materials, the performance and safety requirements of the EVs, and the environmental and social impacts of the battery production and disposal. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are still the most widely used type of battery for EVs, but sodium-ion batteries may become a viable alternative in the future, if the challenges and limitations of the technology can be overcome.
The situation could be about to change soon. In the past week, Sweden’s Northvolt AB said it made a breakthrough with the technology, while Chinese EV maker BYD Co. signed a deal to build a $1.4 billion sodium-ion battery plant. China’s CATL already said in April that its sodium-based batteries will be used in some vehicles from this year.
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