sodium-ion technology could become dominant in the future as a cheaper, safer and greener alternative to lithium.
UK-based Faradion are leading lights in the effort to take sodium-ion batteries to mass production, and this year were bought by Reliance New Energy Solar Ltd, themselves a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s largest private sector company, for an astonishing £100 million.
As well as being deployed directly in electric vehicle batteries, the technology is intended to be used as storage for fast-chargers – essentially acting as the equivalent of storage tanks at petrol stations, but for electricity, recharging during quiet periods and helping to prevent the electricity grid from being overloaded when a glut of vehicles are charging simultaneously at peak times.
The idea behind sodium-ion batteries is to provide, in Faradion’s own words, ‘lithium-ion performance at lead-acid prices’ by using sodium – which is widely available across the globe and can be extracted from salt – instead of lithium, which is relatively scarce and expensive.
The batteries themselves work on the same principle as lithium-ion batteries – the two elements are adjacent on the periodic table and have similar properties – but making the chemistry work in a commercially viable battery is the subject of a vast amount of work.
Sodium-ion batteries in detail
Urban solution: The energy-density isn’t as high as Li-ion batteries (at least, not yet), making them more suited to energy storage at charging stations or for lower performance, cheaper scooters and city bikes.
Coming (very) soon: With CATL sodium-ion battery production due to start in 2023 and NIU set to launch a scooter using the same technology that year, sodium-ion batteries are genuinely on the verge of commercial availability, not endlessly ‘just around the corner’.
Flexible performance: Although less energy dense than Li-ion, sodium-ion cells can recharge fast – CATL claims 0-80% charge in 15 minutes – and retain charge well in cold weather, keeping 90% of their performance at -20°C.
Greener option: Sodium-ion batteries are essentially similar to lithium-ion cells but use much more widely available raw materials to cut down on costs and ecological damage from mining for lithium.
Safer storage: Unlike lithium cells, which can’t be discharged below about 30% of their capacity, sodium-ion batteries can be emptied to zero volts, making them safer to store and transport.
The Future of electric motoring is interesting, and we’ve been exploring it more and more as it becomes obvious as a next step. But, can we do it better than litium mines?
Here’s a couple features we’ve done on electric vehciles.
Sur-ron E bike
Hynudai Ioniq 5