July 16, 2024

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Battery giants including Tesla rival BYD are betting on sodium

2 min read

Battery giants are starting to put their money on new sodium-based technology, a sign that there could be yet another shakeup in the industry that’s crucial for the energy transition.

Sodium — found in rock salts and brines around the globe — has the potential to make inroads into energy storage and electric vehicles because it’s cheaper and far more abundant than lithium, which currently dominates batteries. But while chemically and structurally similar, sodium has yet to be used on a large scale, partly due to the better range and performance of similarly sized lithium cells.

That could be about to change. In the past week, Sweden’s Northvolt AB said it made a breakthrough with the technology, while Chinese EV maker BYD Co. signed a deal to build a $1.4 billion sodium-ion battery plant. China’s CATL already said in April that its sodium-based batteries will be used in some vehicles from this year.

Read more: Charlie Munger says Elon Musk is outclassed by the head of China’s BYD—poised to overtake Tesla in global sales of fully electric vehicles

“It’s serious investment,” said Rory McNulty, senior research analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. “It’s creating a confidence boost with them saying we are here to continue scaling capacity to commercialize this technology.”

If sodium products do prove successful, they could curb lithium consumption. It’s also a reminder of the perils of trying to forecast metals usage in a constantly evolving industry as companies seek cheaper and more efficient cells.

While sodium-ion batteries’ low energy density means they’re unsuitable for larger EVs, they could increasingly be used instead of lithium in lower-end, shorter-range vehicles — or for power-grid energy storage, where size isn’t such an issue.

BloombergNEF has said that sodium should cut about 272,000 tons of lithium demand by 2035, or more than 1 million tons if lithium supplies can’t meet…

Eddie Spence, Annie Lee, Bloomberg

2023-11-26 15:37:57

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