Will sodium batteries soon dethrone lithium batteries?

The Chinese giant CATL recently unveiled its new sodium-ion battery with quite respectable performance, especially in cold environments. These new batteries, which are expected to be launched in 2023, could be of interest to the Scandinavian markets.

Les batteries sodium ion

In 2019, Stanley Whittingham, Akira Yoshino and John Goodenough received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on lithium-ion batteries. And for good reason, which have been used in many fields for several years, from cell phones to laptops and electric vehicles, they have revolutionized our societies.

Light, rechargeable and powerful, these batteries nevertheless have some limitations. On the one hand, they are expensive to produce. On the other hand, the raw materials from which they are composed are becoming increasingly rare, such as cobalt, and their extraction causes a lot of pollution. As the world moves towards renewable energy to free itself from fossil fuels, we therefore need cheap, less polluting and equally efficient alternatives.

For several years, therefore, researchers have been focusing on batteries sodium ion. Although their chemistry differs, these batteries act like lithium-ion batteries, generating energy by bouncing ions between a pair of electrodes in a liquid electrolyte.

However, sodium ions present some problems that lithium ions do not. These ions are larger and have tendency to accumulate on the surface of the negatively charged electrode, the cathode, which eventually kills the battery. Furthermore, these batteries do not contain much energy than lithium. Therefore, the latter still have the advantage, but for how long?

Indeed, in recent years, researchers have proposed several promising solutions to these problems. Some have “added extra salt” to make the batteries last longer, while others have incorporated thin layers of copper to improve their performance.

electric cars batteries
Credit: Ismael Marder/Pixabay

A first sodium-ion battery launched at CALT

More recently, the Chinese giant CATL, which currently accounts for about 30% of the market according to Clubic, has overcome these problems by using a hard and porous carbon material for the anode and by modifying the structure of another material called Prussian white to the electrons.

Result: these new structures would have an energy density ranging from up to 160 Wh/kg. We are still a long way from the density that lithium batteries offer (up to 285 Wh/kg), but progress is being made. The goal of developing the energy density of the next generation of sodium ion batteries is to: exceeds 200Wh/kg.

sodium ion batteries electric cars
Credit: CALT

In addition, CALT ensures that its sodium-ion batteries 80% charged in just 15 minutes at room temperature and maintain 90% capacity at temperatures as low as -20°C. That’s why CATL says its new sodium battery is very suitable for electric transport, especially in colder regions. Then we think of the Scandinavian countries where electric cars are already well established.

According to CATL, which supplies batteries for Tesla, BMW and Hyundai, this new sodium battery marketed from 2023.