Lithium batteries can be found everywhere in our work and life. From electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops to new energy vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are used in many scenarios. With their smaller size, more stable performance and better cycleability, they help humans make better use of clean energy.

In recent years, China has ranked among the best in the world in key technology research and development, material preparation, battery production and application of sodium-ion batteries.

Great reserve advantage

At present, the development of electrochemical energy storage represented by lithium-ion batteries is accelerating. Lithium-ion batteries have high specific energy, specific power, charge and discharge efficiency and output voltage, long service life and small self-discharge, making them an ideal energy storage technology. With the reduction of manufacturing costs, lithium-ion batteries are being installed on a large scale in the field of electrochemical energy storage, with strong growth momentum.

According to data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China’s new installed capacity of new energy storage will increase by 200% year-on-year in 2022, and more than 20 100-megawatt projects will be connected to the grid. Among them, lithium battery energy storage accounts for 97% of the total newly installed capacity.

“Energy storage technology is a key link in practicing and implementing the new energy revolution. In the context of the dual-carbon target strategy, China’s new energy storage is developing rapidly.” Sun Jinhua, academician of the European Academy of Sciences and professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, said vividly that new energy storage At present, there is a situation of “one lithium dominates”.

Among numerous electrochemical energy storage technologies, lithium-ion batteries have taken a dominant position in portable electronic devices and new energy vehicles, forming a relatively complete industrial chain. But at the same time, the shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries have also attracted attention.

Scarcity of resources is one of them. Experts said that from a global perspective, the distribution of lithium resources is extremely uneven, with about 70% distributed in South America, and China’s lithium resources only account for 6% of the world’s lithium resources.

How to develop low-cost energy storage battery technology that does not rely on scarce resources? The pace of upgrading of new energy storage technologies represented by sodium-ion batteries is accelerating.

Similar to lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries are secondary batteries that rely on sodium ions to move between the positive and negative electrodes to complete charging and discharging. Li Jianlin, secretary-general of the Energy Storage Standards Committee of the China Electrotechnical Society, said that from a global perspective, sodium reserves far exceed those of lithium and are widely distributed. The cost of sodium-ion batteries is 30% to 40% lower than lithium batteries. At the same time, sodium-ion batteries have better safety, low-temperature performance, and high cycle life, making sodium-ion batteries an important technical route to solve the pain point of “one lithium alone”.

Good industry prospects

China attaches great importance to the research and development and application of sodium-ion batteries. In 2022, China will include sodium-ion batteries in the “14th Five-Year Plan for Scientific and Technological Innovation in the Energy Field” to support research on cutting-edge technologies and core technology and equipment for sodium-ion batteries. In January 2023, six departments including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology jointly issued the “Guiding Opinions on Promoting the Development of the Energy Electronics Industry”, clearly strengthening the technological research on the industrialization of new energy storage batteries, and researching breakthroughs in ultra-long-life, high-safety battery systems, large-scale, large-capacity and high-efficiency batteries. energy storage and other key technologies, and accelerate the development of new batteries such as sodium-ion batteries.

Yu Qingjiao, secretary-general of the Zhongguancun New Battery Technology Innovation Alliance, said that 2023 is called the “first year of mass production” of sodium batteries in the industry, and China’s sodium battery market is booming. In the future, sodium batteries will become a powerful complement to lithium battery technology in multiple segments such as two- and three-wheel electric vehicles, household energy storage, industrial and commercial energy storage, and new energy vehicles.

In January this year, Chinese new energy vehicle brand JAC Yttrium delivered the world’s first sodium battery vehicle. In 2023, CATL’s first-generation sodium-ion battery cells will be launched. The battery cell can be charged for 15 minutes at room temperature, and the power can reach more than 80%. Not only is the cost lower, but the industrial chain will also be independently controllable.

At the end of last year, the National Energy Administration announced new energy storage pilot demonstration projects. Among the 56 shortlisted projects, there are two sodium-ion battery projects. According to Wu Hui, president of the China Battery Industry Research Institute, the industrialization process of sodium-ion batteries is developing rapidly. It is estimated that by 2030, the global demand for energy storage will reach about 1.5 terawatt hours (Twh), and sodium-ion batteries are expected to gain a large market space. “From grid-level energy storage to industrial and commercial energy storage, to home energy storage and portable energy storage, sodium electricity will be widely used in all energy storage products in the future,” Wu Hui said.

The road to application is long

Currently, sodium-ion batteries are attracting attention from various countries. “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” once reported that as of December 2022, the number of patents obtained by China in the field of sodium-ion batteries accounts for more than 50% of the total number of valid patents in the world, with Japan, the United States, South Korea and France ranking second to fifth respectively. Bit. Sun Jinhua said that in addition to China’s clear acceleration of technological breakthroughs and large-scale application of sodium-ion batteries, many European, American and Asian countries have also included sodium-ion batteries in their energy storage battery development systems.

Di Kansheng, deputy general manager of Zhejiang Huzhou Guosheng New Energy Technology Co., Ltd., said that sodium-ion batteries can learn from the development history of lithium batteries, develop from productization to industrialization, reduce costs, improve performance, and promote application scenarios in various industries. At the same time, safety should be given top priority and the performance characteristics of sodium-ion batteries should be utilized.

Although the prospects are promising, experts say that sodium-ion batteries still have a long way to go before they can be applied on a large scale.

Yu Qingjiao said that the current industrial development of sodium batteries is faced with challenges such as low energy density, technology that needs to be mature, supply chains that need to be improved, and theoretical low-cost levels that have not yet been reached. The entire industry needs to focus on collaborative innovation around the difficulties to promote the sodium battery industry towards an ecological ization and higher-level development.