① Sodium is cheaper than lithium, which currently dominates batteries, and has much more reserves; ② Sodium batteries are more suitable for low-end, short-range vehicles, or grid energy storage; ③ Some data shows that by 2035, sodium will replace about 272,000 tons of lithium demand. If lithium supply does not meet demand, the substitution effect will expand further to more than 1 million tons.
Financial News Agency, November 27 (Editor Huang Junzhi) Battery giants are beginning to invest in new sodium-based battery technology, which indicates that the industry may undergo another transformation critical to the energy transition.
Sodium, found in rock salt and salt water all over the world, has the potential to enter the field of energy storage and electric vehicles because it is cheaper and has far more reserves than lithium, which currently dominates battery raw materials. However, although the chemistry and structure of the two are similar, sodium batteries have not been used on a large scale, partly because lithium batteries of the same size have better performance.
That may be about to change, however: industry giants are beginning to join the market with additional capital.
Over the past week, Swedish battery developer and manufacturer Northvolt AB said it has made a breakthrough in this technology and plans to provide customers with samples of sodium-ion batteries next year and achieve mass production by 2030. Meanwhile, Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD also signed an agreement this month to invest 10 billion yuan to build a sodium-ion battery project with an annual production capacity of 30 GWh/year in Jiangsu. The goal is to become the world's largest integrated supplier of sodium-ion batteries for mini cars.
In April of this year, Ningde Times said that starting this year, its sodium-based batteries will be used in some cars.
Rory McNulty, senior research analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a professional information provider, said: Their investment is not just research and development; it is more about continuing to expand production capacity and commercialize this technology, which has boosted people's confidence.
If sodium batteries do prove successful, they may curb lithium consumption. It's also a reminder that in a growing industry, as companies seek cheaper and more efficient batteries, trying to predict the future use of metals is risky.
Although the low energy density of sodium-ion batteries means they are unsuitable for large electric vehicles, they can increasingly replace lithium batteries for low-end, short-range vehicles, or grid energy storage, where battery size is not an issue.
According to some data, by 2035, sodium will replace about 272,000 tons of lithium demand. If lithium supply cannot meet demand, the substitution effect will expand further to more than 1 million tons.
It is important to note that changes in the metal structure of batteries often disrupt supply and demand prospects and cause prices to fluctuate drastically. For example, cobalt and nickel, which were thought to face a long-term shortage a few years ago, demand estimates have been revised due to the emergence of batteries that do not use these elements (such as lithium iron phosphate batteries).
However, the possibility of large fluctuations in lithium prices is particularly obvious. Last year, the rush to buy led to a sharp rise in the price of lithium, but as demand for electric vehicles declined and supply prospects improved, the price of lithium began to plummet. This wave of price increases has also prompted battery companies to view sodium as a cheaper alternative.
Sam Adham, head of battery materials at consulting firm CRU Group, said: “Sodium-ion batteries will play a role in improving the balance between lithium supply and demand. This will curb the really sharp fluctuations in lithium prices.”
According to our understanding, the most obvious potential advantage of sodium batteries is that they can store excess electricity in the power grid. As the world gradually moves away from fossil fuels, this is becoming more and more important. In this segment, battery performance is less important than low cost.
Finally, the success of sodium batteries will also depend on improving the battery's cycle life. According to reports, sodium batteries can currently be recycled an average of 5,000 times, while the most cost-effective lithium battery products are about 7,500 times.
Rystad Energy analyst Duo Fu said that the biggest question is whether it can achieve a long lifespan. If successful, then the energy storage industry may have more demand.