A new scientific breakthrough out of China could eventually make sodium-ion batteries accessible to consumers worldwide.
Batteries are a costly component of electric vehicles (EVs) and greatly impact retail prices. Conventional lithium-ion batteries have soared in price in recent years due to skyrocketing demand and limited supply. The majority of the world’s lithium mining is restricted to just three countries: Australia, Chile, and China.
Between January 2021 and November 2022, lithium prices went up by more than 1,000%.
In contrast, sodium, a well-known metal used in table salt, is abundantly available throughout the Earth’s crust. If sodium-ion battery technology was to become widespread, almost every country could establish its own sodium power battery plant.
The lower-cost production of sodium-ion batteries could then stabilize the price of EVs and accelerate their adoption.
QIBEBT’s breakthrough discovery
Many companies worldwide are researching methods to create sodium-ion batteries, but there are challenges to overcome.
Batteries that contain sodium ions typically have lower energy density due to the larger size of sodium ions compared to lithium ions. This results in less energy stored per unit of weight in sodium batteries.
However, according to the South China Morning Post, a team of researchers at the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT) might have recently overcome this obstacle.
In October, the researchers successfully powered electric scooters using 60-volt solid-state sodium-ion batteries. The new EV battery has an energy density of up to 160 watt hours per kilogram—similar to existing lithium batteries.
Moreover, the battery is just as lightweight as a conventional lithium-ion battery.
Lower price isn’t the only advantage
The lower price is far from the only advantage that sodium-ion batteries have over lithium-ion counterparts.
Firstly, sodium-ion batteries can operate at full capacity in extremely cold temperatures. Even at -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit), sodium-ion batteries retain optimal performance.
By contrast, lithium-ion batteries are notorious for their decreased range in cold weather. At just -4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit), EVs powered with lithium batteries lose approximately 30% of their range. North Dakota, which has the coldest winters in the contiguous United States, also has the lowest rate of EV adoption.
In addition, sodium-ion batteries have an average lifespan of more than eight years. They can be charged for 3000 cycles, which is significantly more than the standard 500 cycles of lithium-ion batteries.
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