Sodium-ion Batteries in 2023
Curious about what our Senior Battery Scientist Jacob Hadler-Jacobsen is most looking forward to in 2023? Or perhaps you would like to learn about Na-ion batteries or bidirectional charging? Sounds like you should take a look at our first blog post of the year!
Jacob, what are you most excited for when it comes to the battery space in 2023?
I think I am most excited about Na-ion (sodium-ion) batteries. While technologies promising higher energy density – solid state electrolytes and metallic lithium (Li) anodes, silicon-based anodes, Li-S, etc. – are worthwhile, I think the development towards cheaper batteries is even more significant.
I would say that the energy density of intercalation type batteries (Li-ion, Na-ion) is sufficient today for many applications, and that lowering the cost is by far the most critical aspect for mass adoption of batteries. One has already seen a shift from the NMC/NCA type Li-ion batteries (which depend on expensive nickel and cobalt) towards the low cost LFP-type. However, even LFP is impacted by the stark rise in lithium prices, which have gone up approximately tenfold since 2020.
What is so exciting about Na-ion batteries?
As implied by the name, Na-ion batteries rely on using cheap sodium instead of lithium. They have historically gotten little attention, as they typically have lower energy density than Li-ion batteries. This has traditionally outweighed the effect of the lower cost of sodium compared to lithium.
Recently that has changed, both due to higher lithium prices and lower manufacturing costs. CATL (one of the largest battery manufacturers) is planning to start production of Na-ion batteries in 2023. Their Na-ion batteries will rely on a hard carbon anode and a Prussian white cathode. Prussian white can be made from elements such as carbon, nitrogen and iron – all of which have a negligible price compared to elements often used in Li-ion cathodes, such as nickel and cobalt. Thus, there would potentially be no expensive or rare elements needed to make their Na-ion batteries. This is especially interesting as CATL has stated that the Na-ion batteries do not need more complex production lines than LIBs, and that their energy density (160 Wh/kg at cell level) is almost as good as LFP LIBs.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2022 was the first year since they started analysing battery prices in 2010 that prices increased from the previous year (from 141 to 151 USD/kWh), mostly due to increased raw material prices. If SIBs actually can be made as CATL says, then I believe they could enable batteries well below the 100 USD/kWh mark. This would again greatly increase the number of sites where it is profitable to have a battery doing peak shaving or time shifting of the electricity consumption or production.
Intuitively one might think that for instance a halving of battery cost doubles the profitability, i.e. that profitability scales linearly with lower battery cost. But what we see when we run our calculations at Geniess is that the profitability scales significantly more than linearly. In other words, if battery costs were to be halved, then a battery installation could become three times as profitable. And I believe we are at a point when a lot of battery installations will reach profitability with continued lower battery costs. This would also make renewable energy production more profitable, something we can all be excited about!
Any other technologies we should be keeping an eye on this year?
Another technology I am eager to see develop & scale in 2023 is bidirectional EV charging. In simplified terms, this enables you to choose whether you want to charge your car at home, or whether you want the car to discharge and deliver power to your home instead. Few EVs support this feature currently; a notable exception is the Ford F-150 Lightning, which is marketed with claims of being able to power a house for 3-10 days. This can be useful during power outages, such as those caused by extreme weather events. However, I believe an even more useful application would be to use EVs for peak shaving and time shifting of domestic electricity consumption or production, thus greatly lowering household electricity bills. As Ford has shown, the technology is already here. Hopefully, the vast potential EV batteries represent will be used to help the grid accommodate more renewable energy in 2023!
Sounds like we have much to look forward to – thank you Jacob, for sharing your thoughts!