While everyone else was worrying about cheap oil and the future of electric cars, sodium batteries just got closer to becoming mainstream. This challenger to lithium ion technology has been around for a while but it has also been plagued by some inherent problems. Now, another one of these has been solved by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Washington State University.
The problem with sodium batteries are their limited capacity.
Battery capacity is a top priority for any battery developer, especially in the EV space where a car’s attractiveness to buyers relies heavily on its range, which, in turn, depends on the car’s battery capacity. But like everything, there is a tradeoff. The greater the capacity, the higher the price of the battery and, therefore, the car. This is what makes the search for an alternative to costly lithium ion batteries so urgent.
Sodium batteries are inarguably cheaper than lithium ion. Sodium is found in abundance anywhere there is salt water. Meanwhile, the supply of lithium is limited to a few places in the world.
Then there is the cobalt issue, which is an issue both fundamental—most of the world’s supply is concentrated in one country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo—and ethical, because the DRC is notorious for child labor in its cobalt mines. Sodium batteries dispense with the lithium problem by not using the element altogether. They still use cobalt, however.
Now, according to the team led by WSU professor Yuehe Lin and senior PNNL research scientist Xiaolin Li, sodium batteries could have a capacity comparable to that of lithium ion batteries. What’s more, the durability of their battery was also much better than previous attempts, with 80 percent of capacity remaining after 1,000 charge-recharge cycles.