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CATL, Tesla battery supplier, unveils sodium-ion battery

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China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd (CATL) unveiled at a launch event on Thursday a first-generation sodium-ion battery, a type of lower-density cell that uses cheaper raw materials than batteries made from lithium-ion metals.

The energy density of CATL’s sodium-ion battery cell can achieve up to 160Wh/kg, and the battery can charge in 15 minutes to 80% SOC at room temperature, the company said in a news release.

The company also launched a battery-pack solution that can integrate sodium-ion cells and lithium-ion cells into one case, compensating for the energy-density shortage of the former while preserving its advantages.

While CATL is the world’s biggest battery maker, supplying electric car giant Telsa and selling 34.1 gigawatt hours in the first half, up 234% year-on-year for a market share of 30%, like other manufacturers it has been hit by rising raw materials costs.

The price of lithium carbonate, a core ingredient in most electric vehicle batteries, has doubled this year while the price of nickel, another key metal, is at a five-month high.

“Sodium-ion batteries have unique advantages in low-temperature performance, fast charging and environmental adaptability,” CATL Chairman Zeng Yuqun told Bloomberg. “Moreover, they’re compatible and complementary with lithium-ion batteries. Diversified technical routes are an important guarantee for the long-term development of the industry.”

“The unveiling of battery packs combining both sodium-ion and lithium-ion cells could point towards compromise in performance for low-cost electric vehicles, with the potential to disrupt the mass market”

Wood Mackenzie Research Analyst Max Reid

“About 93% of CATL’s cell capacity is located in China. Developing sodium-ion battery technology could diversify their raw materials consumption, especially lithium,” Wood Mackenzie senior analyst Le Xu said in a note.

“Battery suppliers such as CATL, Tesla, LG Chem have proactively signed supply agreements with miners in Australia and Chile, which pushed lithium chemicals spot prices to a new high in the past six months,” Xu said.  

“Sodium-ion technology has long been touted for commercial battery use due to sodium’s low cost and high abundance relative to lithium, and CATL producing large scale sodium-ion batteries shows the technology’s appeal is coming to fruition sooner rather than later,” WoodMac research analyst Max Reid added.

“The lower energy of the sodium-ion cells suggests that the technology may be more suited for stationary energy storage applications which are less restrictive, while the unveiling of battery packs combining both sodium-ion and lithium-ion cells could point towards compromise in performance for low-cost electric vehicles, with the potential to disrupt the mass market,” Reid said.  

CATL founder Zeng overtook Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma in the wealth rankings earlier this month, a symbolic moment in the rise of China’s green billionaires.

(With files from Bloomberg)

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