Lithium or Sodium batteries – potential vs reality

Lithium or Sodium batteries – potential vs reality

If there’s one thing you can always rely on is the constant progression and innovation of technology. No tech bought today will stay as it is, it will be improved in its next iteration based on user feedback.

This is fantastic for consumers! You will always be the priority for manufacturers, as is the case with battery manufacturers. Baintech is always looking to offer you the most powerful, lightest, most durable battery for your off-grid adventures, and so are other battery makers.

We’ve heard a lot recently about Sodium-ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries are a promising new technology that warrants a closer look. In this blog, we’ll compare Lithium-ion to Sodium-ion side-by-side and present conclusions about where you should spend your battery dollars.

What are Sodium-ion batteries?

Sodium-ion batteries, or Na-ion batteries, are several types of rechargeable batteries which use sodium ions as its charge carriers. In some cases, its working principle and cell construction are similar to those of lithium-ion battery types, but it replaces lithium with sodium as the intercalating ion. One of the main advantages of Na-ion is the natural abundance of salt, particularly in salt water.

So how do they compare against Lithium-ion batteries, or Li-ion batteries, which are the most widely used batteries in the world?

Energy density

Na-ion: Tend to have a lower energy density compared to Li-ion. This makes them less suitable for applications where compact size and light weight are essential.

Li-ion: Generally have a higher energy density, meaning they can store more energy for a given volume or weight. This makes Li-ion batteries more suitable for applications where weight and space are critical, such as in smartphones and electric vehicles.

Output

Na-ion: In test scenarios, Na-ion batteries have been shown to provide over 2000W per two batteries, however this is only at full charge. A fully charged Sodium-ion battery is 15.6V, and a flat one is around 10v, which means that for the same power output, the batteries need to provide 30-40% more amps when they are at a low SOC.

Li-ion: Lithium batteries will only require an extra 6% of amps for the same power output at low state of charge compared to full.

Lifespan and Stability

Na-ion: Early indications suggest that Na-ion batteries may offer good cycle life and stability. However, as a less mature technology, more research is needed to fully understand their long-term performance and stability.

Li-ion: These batteries have a relatively long lifespan but can degrade over time and with extensive use. Like all batteries currently in the marketplace, Li-ion batteries have requirements to obtain maximum possible lifespan, such as  protection against high temperatures, and adequate storage and ventilation.

Cost

Na-ion: Potentially cheaper, as sodium is more abundant and widely available than lithium. This could make Na-ion batteries a more cost-effective solution in the future, especially for large-scale storage systems. At the moment, however, Na-ion batteries are not more economical than lithium.

Li-ion: The cost of lithium batteries has been decreasing but can still be relatively high due to the materials used, particularly lithium and cobalt, which can be expensive and have supply chain concerns. When balanced next to their long lifespan, however, Li-ion batteries offer superior cost efficiency.

Size

Na-ion: Sodium may not fit into the small areas available in vans and campers due to lack of manufacturers producing different sizes, such as those available in lithium. Sodium technology is also not yet at a stage where Na-ion batteries can be produced in the quantities we do with lithium.

Li-ion: Lithium-ion batteries have higher energy densities than lead-acid batteries or nickel-metal hydride batteries, so it is possible to make the battery size smaller than others while retaining the same storage capacity. Battery manufacturers and caravan associations agree that Li-ion batteries offer a practical option for mounting inside, especially when you consider available slimline options and the new electrical standards IEC 62619

Environmental impact

Na-ion: These batteries potentially have a lower environmental impact than lithium, given the abundance and lower toxicity of sodium. This could make recycling and disposal less of an issue.

Li-ion: Raises concerns due to mining and disposal issues, particularly with materials like cobalt and lithium. Recycling processes are improving and are becoming available in major cities.

Applications

Na-ion: Sodium batteries are being considered as a promising candidate for grid storage and other applications where size and weight are less critical. It’s particularly interesting for stationary storage due to lower costs and material availability. Currently, Brisbane City Council is experimenting at their Banyo storage facility on an on-grid Na-ion backup option. The findings could have very interesting long-term results.

Li-ion: Lithium-ion batteries are dominant in portable electronics, electric vehicles, off-grid power, and increasingly in grid storage.

Maturity of technology

Na-ion: This technology is still emerging with ongoing research and development. Commercial products are starting to appear but are not yet as widespread as Li-ion batteries. Many large Chinese manufacturing companies are still in the primary stages of research and development and do not wish to enter the market for approximately another 12-18 months. They believe much more research must be conducted for them to have absolute faith in their innovation of sodium ion batteries.

In addition, most chargers on the market are unable to charge sodium yet at the 15.6V it requires. Most consumer electronics will not be rated for 15.6V yet, e.g. fridges, pumps, etc. In test scenarios, a DC-DC converter is needed to bring the voltage down to an all-standard acceptable voltage level with all chargers currently in the marketplace.

Li-ion: Lithium is a well-established technology with a mature market, extensive research, and a developed manufacturing ecosystem.

Final verdict

The potential of Sodium-ion batteries is undeniable. They are emerging as a potentially cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative for applications where high energy density is less critical, such as grid storage. Therefore, the choice between sodium and lithium technologies depends on the specific use.

We can see a day in the future where Na-ion batteries will play a role in providing mainstream energy storage. However, at the moment, sodium is still an unproven technology in the consumer market, whereas we know how lithium works, its performance in diverse conditions, and how long it lasts.

In the outdoors space, lithium is still the superior choice due to its energy density, small size and weight, and proven performance in challenging environments. For the foreseeable future, we see lithium-ion batteries continuing to dominate the market, especially for portable electronics and electric vehicles. For now, take the claims about sodium batteries with a pinch of salt and stick with reliable lithium which ticks all the boxes.

Check out our range of lithium-ion batteries here, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

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