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CATL, the battery supplier to Hyundai and Tesla among others, has unveiled its first sodium-ion battery as well as its AB battery pack that integrates sodium-ion and lithium-ion cells into one unit.

Sodium-ion batteries, according to CATL, are set to be a big breakthrough in the adoption of EVs and overall carbon neutrality. 

Sodium-ion batteries have a similar working principle to lithium-ion batteries. Sodium ions also shuttle between the cathode and anode. However, compared with lithium ions, sodium ions have a larger volume and higher requirements regarding structural stability and the kinetic properties of materials.

As a result, sodium-ion batteries can charge faster than lithium-ion units and have improved thermal stability. CATL claims that its new batteries can charge up to 80% in just 15 minutes at room temperature. 

What’s more, sodium-ion cells can retain more than 90% of their capacity when the temperature drops below zero – something that could spur EV adoption in areas with harsh winters or at high elevations.

However, they aren’t as energy-dense as lithium-ion cells – CATL’s new batteries can achieve up to 160Wh/kg, well below the industry standard for lithium-ion.

Of course, this is still first-generation tech so we’re likely to see some further improvements.

CATL’s AB battery allows manufacturers to mix-and-match sodium-ion and lithium-ion batteries into one system. This system can compensate for the current energy-density shortage of the sodium-ion battery, and also expand its advantages of high power and performance in low temperatures. This should make sodium-ion adoption more viable in the short- to medium-term.

CATL has started the process of manufacturing sodium-ion batteries and plans to have a basic industrial chain by 2023, allowing for greater manufacturing capacity. 

It remains to be seen how much interest there will be in sodium-ion batteries and whether they’ll be able to supplant lithium-ion units as the go-to choice for electrifying vehicles.

However, with CATL’s existing connections to manufacturers, it seems best-placed to drive the adoption of sodium-ion.

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