First electric cars with BYD and CATL sodium-ion batteries without lithium to launch by year's end
While the first electric vehicle with cheaper and safer sodium-ion battery that doesn't use lithium was already announced, it's time for the two biggest battery makers CATL and BYD to hop on the Na-ion train and really mainstream the technology.
Both CATL and BYD sodium-ion batteries will be entering mass production this year, and, in the case of CATL, it is even now known which brand will get it first. The first electric cars with CATL's Na-ion battery will be made by Chery's new iCAR brand, as well as go in its tiny urban movers QQ Ice Cream and Little Ant.
BYD is reportedly still planning to use its sodium-ion battery in the newly revealed Seagull that offers 250 miles on a charge for just US$14,000. The affordable Seagull was recently detailed by BYD with lithium iron phosphate batteries, but a Na-ion model is reportedly still in the cards for the second half of the year.
CATL's sodium-ion battery offers 160 kWh/kg energy density, which is in the ballpark of LFP batteries that still use lithium, and ditto for the BYD creation. Na-ion cells without expensive lithium are much more affordable to produce, and have chemistry that is way less volatile and safe than current batteries. Due to their comparatively low energy density they have so far only been considered for tiny urban EVs with a limited range.
Both CATL and BYD, however, plan to use them in larger electric vehicles in a hybrid form together with lithium cells. CATL's innovative AB battery system integration technology, for instance, allows for cells of different type to be used in the same battery pack. This irons out each technology's weaknesses and complements their strengths, so CATL is on record saying that hybrid Na-ion batteries can be used in midrange electric vehicles as well, not only in short-range subcompact models.
BYD is using a similar hybrid approach but has already denied that its Dolphin sedan will be offered with a sodium-ion pack that can lower its price by 25% compared to the Li-ion counterpart. Both BYD and CATL accelerated the Na-ion battery development when the price of lithium was hitting record after record last year.
Now that lithium prices are way lower, it remains to be seen if the economics of using sodium-ion batteries have remained the same. Na-ion cells, however, have other big advantages before lithium ones, such as much wider operating temperature range that lowers the capacity loss or thermal runaway risks. They also offer faster charging even when it's cold, and have about three times longer lifespan than lithium cells.
Thus, despite that the production cost gap with Li-ion batteries has now narrowed, there are other things to look forward to when the first electric cars with sodium-ion battery from CATL or BYD hit the market later this year.