Production of the first electric cars with sodium-ion batteries has begun in China. According to “CarNewsChina”, the Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Corporation, or Jac for short, is now producing the Yiwei EV, the first series vehicle with this technology. This is really big news for the industry.

The vehicles have been rolling off the assembly line since the end of December 2023, and the battery apparently comes from the supplier Hina. With a 25-kilowatt-hour battery pack, the car should reach around 250 kilometers according to the Chinese CLTC standard and pump up the storage from 10 to 80 percent in just 20 minutes.

If the information is approximately correct in reality, that would be a remarkable achievement – but sodium batteries are about more than just range or the most efficient charging windows possible. The technology is said to be able to play an essential role in the energy transition. There are several reasons for this.

On the one hand, sodium batteries are said to be easier to maintain than well-known lithium cells. Above all, sodium should not suffer as much from cold as is the case with current batteries. This means fewer weather restrictions, no conditioning for charging as quickly as possible and constant access to full capacity within a fairly wide temperature window. Second, sodium is not nearly as rare or expensive as lithium. On the contrary: sodium is the sixth most common element. The mining of large masses under comparatively environmentally friendly conditions is therefore possible.

Another advantage: sodium-ion batteries are considered safer and less reactive. The latter is always a problem in connection with lithium – because the light metal burns comparatively quickly and is difficult to extinguish once it is out of control. Sodium, on the other hand, is considered thermally stable and therefore non-flammable.

But: Until now, batteries have mainly been used in two-wheelers, as the comparatively low energy density made batteries too heavy for cars. That’s also the reason why Jac is starting with a small car – sodium-ion batteries are not yet suitable for large cars.

However, ongoing progress shows that the current limitations of the technology are being worked on at full speed. Since annual battery production is currently developing rapidly, this must also be successful, as lithium production was almost constant in the years 2018 to 2021, which caused prices to skyrocket on the markets. It was not until 2022 that the mining volume was noticeably increased. Nevertheless, lithium production and demand are drifting further and further apart.

Despite the efforts, a mobility transition and the introduction of ever cheaper electric cars would probably become more and more distant if the battery technology remained the same, as it would already fail due to the ever higher procurement costs for the raw materials.

Experts therefore predict a rapid spread of sodium batteries. “If the conversion (of the production facilities to sodium batteries, editor’s note) proceeds similarly to LFP or NMC811, the sodium batteries should have a market share of over ten percent in production by the end of 2024,” writes Frank Wunderlich-Pfeiffer, for example in the IT specialist magazine “Golem”.

The Chinese manufacturer Jac only says anything to a few people in this country – even though Volkswagen holds half of all shares in the state-owned company. The manufacturer Nio, which is much better known in Europe, had vehicles built there from 2016 to 2023 before the group recently took over entire factories from Jac and thus ended contract manufacturing.

Jac may have taken the first step in integrating sodium batteries into production vehicles, but he may not be alone for long. The world’s largest battery manufacturer CATL as well as the car manufacturers BYD and Jiangling Motors EV (JMEV) are also working hard on new energy storage systems for electric vehicles. In Europe, the Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt recently announced that it had made significant progress with research.

Sources: CarNewsChina, Golem, Akkuline, Statista