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Lithium-Ion vs Sodium-Ion Batteries: Which is the Better one?

If you are looking for a battery to power your application, there are many options available. In this post, we will discuss the differences between lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are widely used in electronics because of their lightweight, compact size, and high energy density. They are the popular choice for powering electronic devices such as laptops, cellphones, tablets, and power tools.

Although they are great for so many applications, they have important shortcomings. The main problem with lithium-ion batteries is the high cost of lithium which makes them expensive to manufacture.

Also, lithium is spread out across the world in very small quantities. This makes it expensive to transport from location to location when manufacturing batteries, which is problematic for companies and for the environment as well.

Sodium-ion batteries are one of the newest types of rechargeable batteries on the market today. However, they have been researched already for decades before finally being commercialized. They are a great alternative to lithium-ion batteries because sodium is much more affordable and widely available.

Lithium is not only more scarce but is also more expensive to produce. A ton of sodium costs only $150 while a ton of Lithium costs over $20,000. The fundamental difficulty of lithium production is that it’s not found in its elemental form.

It needs to be separated from other elements before it can be used, and this separation process has a high environmental impact due to the use of very toxic chemicals such as sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. Therefore, the industry looks for ways to reduce this impact.

Although sodium-ion batteries seem to be a good alternative, However, the technology is still in its infancy.

Sodium-ion batteries don’t have the same high energy density as lithium-ion and they won’t last for quite as long on each charge.

One big advantage of sodium ion vs lithium-ion is that the lower price and reduced environmental impact. Sodium-ion batteries could be a viable alternative to lithium-ion. However, they are not without problems of their own and it’s possible that they won’t ever replace lithium-ion immediately.

What is a Lithium-Ion battery?

lithium-ion battery on electric car
Llithium-ion battery on electric car

A lithium-ion battery is a rechargeable battery that is the most common type of rechargeable battery for portable electronics, like cell phones and laptops.

It is made up of four primary components. The cathode, which defines the battery’s capacity and voltage and is the source of the lithium ions. The anode allows electric current to flow through an external circuit, and when the battery is charged, lithium ions are stored in the anode.

The electrolyte, which consists of salts, solvents, and additives, serves as a pathway for lithium ions between the cathode and anode. Finally, the separator is the last component, which is a physical barrier that separates the cathode and anode.

Why is there a need for lithium-ion alternative battery technology?

Lithium supplies are limited

An electric vehicle with a 90 kWh Li-ion battery requires approximately 6 kg of equivalent lithium to travel 300 kilometers on a single charge. There are approximately 1.2 billion vehicles on the road worldwide, implying that 1.44 billion kg of comparable Li would be required if all 20% of these cars were converted to all-electric vehicles.

Although this analysis does not cover all of the other applications of lithium-ion alternative batteries, such as portable electronics and energy storage for electric grids, it is clear that the search for alternative high-energy batteries made from cheap and readily available materials is critical.

Lithium mining requires abundant water

Also, lithium battery manufacturing demands a large amount of lithium mining. The location also known as the lithium triangle is a South American region that includes parts of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia and contains more than half of the world’s supply of lithium beneath salt flats, requiring 500 000 gallons of water per ton of lithium.

This can be a significant issue since it is a large amount of water and many of these regions are already extremely dry, and they’re mostly desert. Mining has drained more than half of the water supply in this region, which has severe consequences for the agricultural economy.

Lithium mining is not a clean process

The effects of lithium mining on the environment and the water it comes into contact with are significant. Toxic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid can seep into the water supply. Even in the areas like Australia and North America, where traditional mining techniques are used, the disposal and containment of these chemicals are difficult.

According to research, mining in Nevada has been found to have an impact on fish up to 50 miles downstream from the operation. Lithium mining contaminates soil, water supplies, and air.

Recycling lithium batteries doesn’t help

One way to kind of mitigate the adverse effects of lithium mining is by recycling lithium batteries. However, it is not an efficient process and requires a lot of energy.

On top of that, recycling lithium-ion batteries are not researched well enough to make it a viable solution. Therefore, only a limited portion of lithium-ion batteries can be recycled.

Only about two to three percent of batteries in Australia are recycled, while only five percent of lithium-ion batteries are recycled in the United States and the European Union.

Some battery chemistries contain rare and toxic chemicals like cobalt, which is a metal that’s mined in central Africa and has been cited as an example of conflict minerals, due to human rights violations at mines from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Early alternatives for Lithium-ion batteries

Engineers and scientists have been working on alternatives to lithium as one of the first elements investigated to potentially substitute lithium was zinc. Zinc is more abundant in the natural world, and it’s also quite stable and inexpensive. However, it isn’t as effective as lithium.

Another alternative to lithium-ion batteries is hydrogen fuel cells. They are low-cost and environmentally friendly.

However, replacing lithium-ion batteries with hydrogen fuel cell technology is not feasible due to the fact that hydrogen is highly flammable and expensive to store. So long-term conversion to hydrogen fuel cells could be detrimental to the safety and well-being of workers creating the cells. 

This data suggests that lithium-ion batteries will continue to be the go-to option for many applications, including electric cars and grid storage. However, lithium’s scarcity and the environmental harm that is done due to lithium mining will need to be addressed.

What is a Sodium-Ion battery?

A sodium-ion battery is a rechargeable battery that functions similarly to the lithium-ion battery, except that it transports charge using sodium ions (Na+) rather than lithium ions (Li+).

Sodium-ion battery is one of the most promising lithium-ion replacements. It is significantly less expensive to produce and has a much lower carbon footprint when compared to lithium-ion mining and production.

The sodium-ion batteries, which were first studied in the 1980s, have received considerable attention for their exciting potential as a low-cost alternative to lithium battery technology.

Because Li and Na are in the same alkaline group, their physical and chemical/electrochemical properties are quite similar. As a result, SIBs naturally follow the path of success blazed by LIBs.

Despite the similar intercalation chemistry between Na ions and Li-ions, it becomes apparent that the electrode materials used in SIBs and LIBs, as well as their associated performance, have considerably less in common than was previously thought.

Because of the uneven global distribution, severe environmental effects, and high cost of many of the elements required for lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries have sparked a lot of interest as a potential supplemental technology to lithium-ion batteries.

Sodium-ion batteries do not require lithium, cobalt, copper, or nickel, which are required by lithium-ion batteries. The greatest advantage of sodium-ion batteries is their abundant natural sodium supply. As a result, sodium-ion battery production could be less expensive than lithium-ion battery production.

How are lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries compared to each other?

Cost

Although the cost of sodium-ion batteries is expected to be lower than lithium-ion for about 30% – 40% of the commercial availability of sodium-ion batteries is still not well established.

Once sodium-ion batteries are widely available for various battery applications, the cost of sodium-ion batteries is expected to be like the below table:

AMP*HOURCost of typical lithium-ion batteryCost of typical sodium-ion battery
10AH$100$70
20AH$170$120
50AH$450$300
100AH$500$350
200AH$1200$900

Performance

Lithium-ion batteries provide superior performance compared to sodium-ion batteries. Lithium has better electrochemical properties and is more effective at transferring energy. When compared to lithium-ion, sodium-ion batteries have a higher internal resistance and lower energy density.

Lithium-ion battery’s high performance is better suited for portable electronic devices such as mobile phones or laptops where they can be recharged frequently. This makes them the preferred choice of consumers when it comes to these applications.

However, sodium-ion batteries are better suited for applications that price and environmental concerns are of higher priority. Applications such as grid storage, where the batteries are often used for longer durations, require a larger capacity for cheaper and less frequent recharging.

Using sodium-ion batteries for grid storage would provide a cost-effective alternative to lithium-ion batteries without the environmental concerns of lithium mining.

Size

Sodium-ion batteries are larger than lithium-ion batteries. They have a lower energy density, which means they cannot store as much charge per unit volume.

In order to store the amount of energy that a lithium-ion battery stores, sodium-ion batteries would need to be larger than their lithium counterparts.

However, the size of both types of batteries is constantly decreasing as technology advances. The increasing energy density in each type will allow for smaller and more powerful batteries.

Energy Storage

Lithium batteries have a considerably greater specific energy storage (energy per unit weight) of up to 220 Wh/kg compared to sodium batteries 40-200 Wh/kg. It would be safe to say lithium-ion batteries can store almost double the amount of energy as sodium-ion batteries.

Also, sodium batteries will not have the same power as comparable lithium batteries, losing about 10% due to a 0.3 volt lower voltage.

Working Temperature

Both lithium-ion and sodium ions batteries offer the optimum performance between the temperatures 15 °C to 35 °C. However, they both still work between −20 °C to 60 °C. Sodium-ion batteries handle temperature extremes better than lithium-ion batteries, making them more suitable for extreme weather conditions.

Cycling Stability

Sodium-ion batteries can be cycled up to 1000 at 80% depth of discharge while Lithium-ion batteries are cycled up to 500 times at the same depth.

Self-Discharge

Sodium-ion batteries have a self-discharge rate of < 10% per month, while lithium-ion batteries have a self-discharge rate of <5% per month.

Safety

Lithium-ion battery safety issues have received wide press coverage recently due to the possibility of fire and explosion if not handled responsibly.

Sodium-ion batteries are less likely to experience these types of failures due to their safer chemistry when compared with lithium-ion cells. They also do not require cobalt, which is a toxic metal in small doses and can cause respiratory problems in large quantities over time if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Environmental Impact

Mining operations account for 16% of a battery’s overall energy cost, and cobalt lithium and manganese mining produce substantial pollution from both fossil fuels and wastewater. Sodium is significantly more easily accessible by conventional extraction techniques or seawater evaporation.

Lithium batteries have been plagued by ethical issues for years, including the long exploitation of cobalt miners in the Congo. Sodium is readily accessible and does not require cobalt to operate; it comes straight out of the sea.

Sodium is easily extracted from seawater and does not require more than a fraction of the energy that lithium mining does, making it a much lower carbon footprint alternative.

Charging time

Lithium-ion batteries have a shorter charging time due to their lower internal resistance and higher voltage. The actual charging time depends on the size of the battery and the current provided.

Conclusion

Lithium-ion batteries are smaller, lighter, and faster to charge than sodium-ion batteries. They provide higher energy densities which are better suited for portable electronic devices such as mobile phones or laptops where they can be recharged frequently. This makes them the preferred choice of consumers when it comes to these applications.

However, sodium-ion batteries are cheaper, safer, and easier to produce. They can endure more charge-discharge cycles than lithium batteries and are better suited to grid storage applications, and for the temperature extremes.

All in all, both types of batteries have their advantages and disadvantages. While lithium-ion batteries will remain the most common in consumer products for some time to come, sodium-ion batteries are already starting to replace them in grid storage applications due to their lower cost and ease of production.