Reports from China suggest BYD may be the first manufacturer to bring electric cars with sodium-ion batteries to market.
Rumors are flying about in China that claim BYD plans to be producing sodium-ion battery cells in the second quarter of 2023 and use them to power some of its own electric vehicles. The company claims those rumors are false, but they come to us via CnEVPost, which is widely viewed as a reliable source of information about what is going on in the automobile business in China. CnEVPost attributes its news to a report by local Chinese news source LatePost.
BYD battery division FinDreams is said to be responsible for the development and mass production of the sodium-ion batteries, which are currently in the sample validation stage. According to the report, they could be used in the BYD Qin, Dolphin, and new Seagull models. The Qin and Dolphin range in price from $14,000 to $21,000. The Seagull will be priced between $11,000 and $14,000. EVs priced at less than $14,000 have accounted for over 36% of all battery-electric cars sold in China this year.
The reason for doing this — assuming the report is accurate — is that the price of lithium has soared in the past 18 months from $5,700 a ton in June of 2020 to $84,000 a ton today. Since lithium is the primary ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, the search for less expensive alternatives is understandable. The price of sodium is around $3,000 a ton today.
Sodium batteries have one important drawback, however. They have a lower energy density than lithium batteries, so you need more of them to have an equivalent amount of energy available to power an electric car.
Guosen Securities analyst Tang Xuxia and his team said in a research report last July that lithium-ion batteries have an energy density of up to 300Wh/kg, while lead acid batteries have an energy density of around 50Wh/kg. Sodium-ion batteries are somewhere in between the two.
CATL is also pursuing sodium-ion batteries for production vehicles and claims its sodium battery cells have an energy density of 160 Wh/kg. But CATL does not manufacture vehicles, so it is likely BYD will be the first car maker to bring sodium-ion batteries to market. The lower power density will probably be less of a factor at the lower end of the market where the primary factor in the decision to purchase an electric car is price rather than performance.
In addition to being less expensive, sodium batteries also avoid the potential risk of fire associated with lithium-ion batteries, which means manufacturers can use less elaborate and less expensive battery cooling systems, which will help to further lower the cost of entry level EVs.
Once again, this is all rumor and conjecture at the moment, but it does suggest that less expensive electric cars are not far away, even if they won’t be able to do the Kessel run in less than 12 par-secs. There are plenty of people who would forfeit dominance in the stoplight grand prix in order to own an affordable electric car.