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The sodium-ion powered JAC EX10, which is to go on sale in June in China. Photo: Courtesy JAC

The Electric: Do Western Car and Battery Companies Have a Sodium Blind Spot?

By  |  April 10, 2023 4:30 AM PDT
Photo: The sodium-ion powered JAC EX10, which is to go on sale in June in China. Photo: Courtesy JAC

For all the talk of lithium as the driver behind the nascent electric vehicle industry, a second, much less-discussed battery metal has been attracting recent attention. It is sodium, a cheap ingredient of ordinary salt. Long derided as lithium’s poorer cousin in terms of battery value, it is surprisingly showing better performance in some electric vehicles. Since sodium is found nearly everywhere, leading Chinese battery makers and some Western analysts are now calling it a potential replacement for increasingly scarce lithium.

Sodium may be yet another instance in which Western companies are waiting too long to dive into a big shift in batteries. So far, Western, South Korean and Japanese companies have largely ignored sodium, with some industry veterans dismissing it as part of an elaborate plot by China to talk down lithium prices and profit from lower costs. Meanwhile, as many as two dozen Chinese battery makers have announced plans to develop such batteries for stationary storage and later EVs. Their aggressive moves mirror action by Chinese companies across the battery industry the last dozen years. They have been grabbing control of everything from mines to battery manufacturing, a strategy that has put them well ahead of their Western rivals.

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