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Sodium-ion batteries drive future low-cost EVs

Illustration of batteries falling over like dominoes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sodium-ion batteries are set to make headway this year, leading to cheaper EVs and a potential shift in the battery mineral supply chain.

Why it matters: For years lithium-ion batteries appeared to be the best option for both electric vehicles and grid storage, and companies and governments are investing billions of dollars in manufacturing them.

Driving the news: Yet a handful of companies are now touting progress in sodium-ion battery production, deployment, investment and research.

  • Just after the new year, the world's largest EV maker, Chinese company BYD, said it had broken ground on its first sodium-ion battery plant, a $1.4 billion, 30 GWh factory in Xuzhou, China.
  • Just before the new year, Volkswagen-backed Chinese automaker JAC Motors said that this month it will launch a mass-produced EV, powered by a sodium-ion battery through its Yiwei brand.
  • Chinese battery giant CATL also said last year that it would soon start mass producing its sodium-ion batteries for EVs, and the batteries would launch in cars under the Chery Automobile brand.

Meanwhile: Last week, Chinese battery maker Farasis Energy, backed by Mercedes-Benz, showed off the first EV powered by its own sodium-ion batteries.

Zoom in: Global startups and scientists are taking notice and trying to develop ways to tackle the historically low energy density of sodium-ion batteries.

  • Last week, the VC arm of auto giant Stellantis said it's investing in French sodium-ion battery startup Tiamat, which is raising money to build a battery factory.

Big picture: If commercialized, sodium-ion batteries could start to alter global battery material supply chains.

  • Sodium is far more abundant and cheaper than lithium, one of the main ingredients in lithium-ion batteries. Sodium-ion batteries also don't use cobalt and nickel.
  • BloombergNEF has said that sodium use in batteries could cut about 272,000 tons of lithium demand by 2035.

Yes, but: For now, sodium-ion batteries are being commercialized in low-cost, short-range Chinese EVs, because the batteries have a traditionally low energy density.

What's next: Watch for breakthroughs that can boost the energy density of sodium ion batteries and help make the tech more mainstream.

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