China’s leading battery manufacturer CATL [300750:CH] launched its first generation of sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery on July 29, as reported by Caixin later that day. According to the company, the new battery has an energy density of 160 Wh/kg, meaning that it would be charged to 80% within 15 minutes at room temperature. During the online launch event on July 29, CATL’s founder and chairman Robin Zeng commented that the company aimed to improve the battery’s energy density to 200 Wh/kg in its next generation. The battery producer also hoped to establish a basic Na-ion battery industrial chain by 2023.
Compared to the commonly used lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, Na-ion batteries have several advantages including an enhanced performance at low temperatures, more adaptability to fast charging, and better system integration efficiency. CATL also suggested that its Na-ion battery stood out in terms of safety and longevity, permitting over 3,000 charging-discharging cycles over the lifetime. However, the battery’s 160 Wh/kg energy density remained a weak point, since CATL’s Li-ion batteries produced for Tesla [TSLA:US] reached a density of 200 Wh/kg and the standard NMC (Ni-Mn-Co) 811 batteries stood at around 300 Wh/kg. The main application scenarios of Na-ion batteries at present tend to be low-speed electric vehicles, energy storage, and telecom base stations, which have low demand for energy density.
Despite its current shortcoming, analysts considered Na-ion batteries an economically feasible alternative to Li-ion batteries in the long run due to the abundance of sodium resources. Sodium makes up 2.75% of the earth’s crust, yet lithium only accounts for 0.0065%. The relative abundance implied a lower price in the face of growing battery demand. To illustrate, the cost of Na-based battery cells’ raw materials averaged at RMB0.37/Wh, lower than the RMB0.47/Wh of lithium iron phosphate (LFP), a raw material for Li-based battery cells. Similarly, bill-of-materials (BOM) analysis by Everbright Securities [6178:HK] estimated that Na-ion batteries’ production costs were about 30% lower than Li-ion batteries.
CATL was not the first Chinese battery manufacturer to tap into Na-ion battery production. Guangzhou-based Great Power Energy & Technology [300438:CH], which previously focused on Li-ion batteries, has developed Na-ion battery samples this year and conducted pilot tests in June. It aimed to ramp up Na-ion battery production by the end of this year. Another example is HiNa Battery Technology, a startup founded in 2017 that derived its core technology from the research of the China Academy of Sciences. The company received the A round financing from multiple investors including Shanxi Huayang Group New Energy [600348:CH] in March to establish a Na-ion battery production chain with an annual capacity of 2,000 tons.