Sodium battery might be a viable solution for future EVs

The Sodium Battery may in the future be the alternative to lithium not only in electric cars but also in energy storage units. Sodium is a lightweight element that is easily ionized. In a battery, these ions move back and forth between two oppositely charged plates, creating power. This seemed like a promising way to power a house or a car.

The Chinese company CATL, one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world, announced that sodium would play a role in its electric future. CATL, like its competitors, is at times a lithium company.

Read more: How to keep the EV batteries in optimal condition

But from 2023, it will start placing sodium cells along with the lithium inside the batteries that power the electric cars. Why? The answer is very simple after a CATL strain pointed out that sodium is cheaper than lithium and performs better in cold weather. But it also compensated for an issue that was hard to imagine in 1991.

Sodium battery future

By the end of this decade, the world will have a shortage of raw materials for batteries—not only lithium, but also metals like nickel and cobalt. Now that electrification is really happening on a large scale, it’s time to think about diversification. A CATL spokesperson tells WIRED that the company started thinking about sodium 10 years ago.

Lithium is not extremely rare. But deposits are concentrated in places that are difficult to extract. Thus, companies like CATL are competing to secure a chunk of the supply from a limited number of mines, mainly located in Australia and the Andes.

Meanwhile, stocks in North America are “tied” to environmental disputes, raising concerns in the U.S. about the security of supply chains. Competition is even more intense for nickel – which Elon Musk has called the ‘biggest concern’ for the future of EV batteries, due to price and supply constraints – and for cobalt, 70% of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As more and more mines open, there will likely be enough lithium to supply all the world’s vehicles (except cars), says Shirley Meng, a battery scientist at the University of California. That is, it will be used in batteries that will manage the load on the microgrids and keep our lights on at night when the solar panels on the rooftop are in the dark. These are the kinds of applications Meng had in mind when she was involved in sodium research.

Sodium is a common element that is usually mined from soda ash, but can be found basically anywhere, including seawater. It also happens to be suitable for the kinds of applications Meng describes.

Ions are a little heavier and larger than lithium,meaning you can’t pack as much energy in a small space as the interior of a car. “Where sodium batteries can have a big impact is on the grid,” explains Nuria Tapia-Ruiz, a professor at Lancaster University and director of the Faraday Institute’s sodium batteries initiative.


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