Musk pointed to data from the information service World of Statistics showing that the price of lithium hydroxide had risen to $78,032 per metric ton from $6,800 in 2019. As Musk says, there is a lot of lithium. Last year, the world mined 100,000 metric tons of Lithium for use in consumer electronics and electric vehicles. The world’s usable reserves are around 14 million metric tons while proven reserves amount to some 62 million tons. So there is a lot of Lithium out there, even if we continue to use Lithium-Ion batteries for the next 20 years, we are good. The mining industry cannot keep up with the demand, so the alternative is to manufacture batteries based on sodium chemistry. Multiple auto makers are seeking a secure supply chain for battery materials. The big issue with sodium-ion batteries is that they can store only about two-thirds of the energy of Li-ion batteries of equivalent size. But the energy density is steadily increasing and they are reaching the levels found in Lithium-Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries. None of the sodium Ion batteries are commercial yet, but serious competition for lithium could soon be on the way.
If you look at the Periodic table, Lithium and Sodium are similar metals. They both are alkaline metals. They both have one electron in the outermost shell. Sodium is bigger and heavier than lithium cell. Rechargeable sodium-ion batteries are similar in construction to lithium-ion ones. During charging, Na ions move from a sodium- and iron-containing cathode through a liquid electrolyte and across a polymer barrier to a hard carbon anode. On discharge, the sodium ions return from the anode to the cathode.
The most promising chemistry is Sodium-Ion, which will go into production as early as in 2023.
As you can see in above table, the process to extract the raw material is around 100 times cheaper. However the battery pack contains lots of other stuff that apart from elemental Lithium or Sodium, analysts feel that Na-ion cells will be 20% up to 40% cheaper, but the challenge will be to bring the technology to scale. And we can expect large Na-Ion gigafactories only in the mid 2020’s. The good part is the manufacturing process is similar to Lithium-Ion cell manufacturing.
Apart from the cost, there is no risk of thermal runaway with Na-Ion. In fact with Na-Ion, you can discharge completely to 0% and then transport them, there is zero risk of them catching fire. Its very safe to transport.
Another good benefit is low temperature performance, this is not much of a factor for India, but its good news for people using EV’s in the Himalayas! You don’t have to warm up the battery. It works great from -20 C to +65 C.
The biggest problem with Sodium-Ion is the gravimetric energy density is quite low, 70 to 160 Wh/kg. CATL, the Chinese battery behemoth has claimed to have reached that. The energy density is approaching that of LFP Batteries. So for ultra efficient vehicles like scooters or motorcycles, LFP batteries and Sodium-Ion can work totally fine. There has been progress made regarding improving the charge cycles of a Sodium-Ion battery, but it is approaching that of Lithium batteries.
- Faradion - UK based startup
- Natron Energy - Bay Area, SF based startup
- CATL - Chinese battery behemoth
CATL is claiming they will reach 200 wH/kg which would be better than LFP cells and Faradion has reached 180 wH/kg. So there is a lot of potential here. The exciting thing for me is the capability for Na-Ion cells to be totally recyclable. You can recycle close to 90%. Here is the research paper on this topic to read. A very recyclable battery is a huge advantage for Na-Ion. I’m very excited that 3 large companies including Reliance, CATL are pumping money into Na-Ion manufacturing. The energy density for the next 3-4 years may not be ideal for large cars. But Na-Ion should easily fit in electric scooters, e-Bikes, small cars and 3 wheelers. If the batteries were 30-40% cheaper, that would reduce the costs of EV’s.
First Sodium-Ion EV in 2023?
And things have already begun to heat up.
Chinese scooter startup NIU which sells electric scooters all over the world, has already announced plans to launch a sodium-ion based scooter in 2023.
Niu’s CEO ‘Li Yan’ told Chinese media that Niu wants to keep costs under control but did not specify who will manufacture the battery packs.
India’s own chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani said -
"We welcome Faradion and its experienced team to the Reliance family. This will further strengthen and build upon our ambition to create one of the most advanced and integrated New Energy ecosystems and put India at the forefront of leading battery technologies. The sodium-ion technology developed by Faradion provides a globally leading energy storage and battery solution which is safe, sustainable, provides high energy density, and is significantly cost competitive. In addition, it has wide use applications from mobility to grid scale storage."
Sodium-Ion is the real deal guys, I’m very optimistic about this technology compared to other chemistries in the coming years. I thought I would share this with you guys and we look forward to reading your comments. This decade, Sodium-Ion cells will go hand in hand with LFP Cells and turbo charge the EV revolution!
I will see you in the next video of EV Guru.