Why it issues: Battery know-how is a kind of areas that’s getting a number of promising analysis outcomes however little or no within the type of industrial merchandise we are able to use to energy digital units, electrical autos, or off-grid houses. That will quickly change due to sodium-ion batteries which are safer, extra sturdy, and cheaper to fabricate when in comparison with standard lithium-ion batteries.
It is no secret that lithium-ion batteries are on the forefront of contemporary vitality storage and a key driver for electrification efforts worldwide. Nevertheless, manufacturing them on the scale wanted to satisfy rising demand looks as if an virtually not possible job. Lithium producers lately have warned the world may quickly face a scarcity of lithium, probably as quickly as 2025.
A giant contributing issue is that lithium has gone from being a distinct segment metallic used within the ceramics and pharmaceutical industries to one of the vital in-demand metals within the span of some a long time. Albemarle – one of many largest lithium mining corporations on the earth and the one main the US lithium renaissance – plans to spice up its manufacturing capability to 500,000 tonnes yearly by 2030 however says that also will not be sufficient to fulfill the projected demand.
That is the place the sodium-ion battery is available in. Whereas it hasn’t loved the identical highlight as lithium-ion, it is shaping as much as be one of many massive technological breakthroughs that may make the electrification dream a actuality. Sodium-ion batteries have an identical design to lithium-ion batteries and will be manufactured utilizing the identical or comparable industrial processes. In any such battery, sodium ions exchange the lithium ions within the cathode and the lithium salts within the electrolyte (the liquid that helps ferry cost between the battery electrodes) are swapped for sodium salts.
Sodium-ion batteries aren’t a brand new idea, however the thought to fabricate them at scale has solely gained traction lately. Sodium is considerably extra considerable than lithium, so it is cheaper and simpler to supply whereas additionally being much less susceptible to geopolitical tensions. As of writing, the value of sodium carbonate tops out at $286 per metric ton, whereas battery-grade lithium carbonate prices a whopping $20,494 per metric ton.
Chemists have additionally discovered that cells with layered-oxide cathodes constructed utilizing sodium do not require costly metals like cobalt or nickel to attain a comparable vitality density to that of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cells, that are extensively utilized in extra inexpensive electrical autos.
Earlier this month, a staff of Japanese researchers on the Tokyo College of Science revealed they’ve developed a high-capacity cathode for sodium-ion batteries utilizing nanostructured arduous carbon. The ensuing cells can attain vitality densities of as much as 312 Wh per kg – about double that of lithium iron phosphate batteries. To place issues in perspective, that is additionally 1.6 instances the vitality density achieved by probably the most superior sodium-ion batteries just a little over a decade in the past.
One other good thing about sodium-ion batteries is their means to face up to a wider vary of working temperatures – from -30°C to 60°C (-22°F to 140°F) and even 80°C relying on the chemistry used. This is the reason corporations like Faradion have already began trialing sodium-ion battery installations for stationary vitality storage in Australia.
Earlier this 12 months, a three way partnership between Volkswagen and JAC Group unveiled the primary electrical sedan powered by a sodium-ion battery. The automobile is powered by a 25 KWh battery that provides a comparatively modest vary of as much as 250 km (155 miles), however the two corporations are touting quick charging speeds, higher low-temperature efficiency, in addition to an extended cycle life for the battery together with a slower lower in capability because it ages.
James Quinn, who’s the CEO of Faradion, says the protection benefit of sodium-ion batteries can’t be overstated. Whereas lithium-ion cells should be charged above 30 % earlier than transportation, sodium-ion cells will be safely discharged to 0V similar to a capacitor, which eliminates the potential for a thermal runaway as a result of short-circuits. And as you possibly can see within the video above, puncturing a sodium-ion cell at full cost additionally does not flip it into an incendiary grenade.
Whereas Faradion is generally concerned with stationary vitality storage for now, different corporations like Natron Power are already delving into the automobile trade. The Santa Clara-based startup is utilizing a generally produced materials known as Prussian blue to make electrodes for its sodium-ion batteries, that are rated for anyplace between 50,000 to 100,000 cost/discharge cycles. They can be totally recharged in quarter-hour or much less.
Natron not too long ago entered a partnership with Clarios Worldwide to mass produce its sodium-ion batteries on the latter firm’s Meadowbrook facility in Michigan utilizing the identical gear that’s at present used to make lithium-ion cells. As manufacturing ramps up within the coming months, Natron says it will turn out to be the world’s largest sodium-ion battery manufacturing facility on the earth.
How issues will play out for sodium-ion batteries stays to be seen, however not like many options which have but to see the skin of a lab, they certain look promising. All of it depends upon how costs will fluctuate for supplies because the know-how matures and extra factories begin producing sodium-ion cells at scale.
International manufacturing capability is anticipated to succeed in 186 GWh yearly by 2030, in comparison with 6.5 TWh for lithium-ion cells. Which means that sodium batteries most likely will not overthrow the dominance of lithium-ion anytime quickly. Nevertheless, they appear like an more and more enticing various for quite a lot of purposes and there may be potential for them to turn out to be the go-to resolution in the long run.