Sodium Batteries Can Power Your New Electric Car


Sodium is the most common element commonly mined from soda ash, but it can be found everywhere, including in seawater and in peat from mud. It also happens to fit very well with the types of applications described by Meng. Ions are heavier and larger than lithium, meaning you can’t pack energy into small space, like the belly of a car. “Where sodium batteries can make a big impact is on the grid,” explains Nuria Tapia-Ruiz, a professor at Lancaster University and director of the sodium battery initiative at the Faraday Institution. Those batteries can be a little bigger, a little heavier, but it doesn’t matter because they have to sit tight.

Historically, Tapia-Ruiz says, sodium batteries have been restricted because of their chemical strength. While sodium and lithium are periodic neighbors, they are in the parallel universe of chemistry, reacting differently to different elements and compounds. This means that sodium transfer requires the production of new materials for the cathode and anode of the battery, the positive and negative electrodes that capture and release ions as the battery is charged and then discharged. A particular problem is that chemical reactions inside the battery can eat away at the electrolyte sitting between the electrodes, reducing battery life or risking the formation of sodium metal, which can be explosive. Another challenge is that high -energy sodium batteries often contain nickel, as do many lithium batteries. Removing that metal is an important concern for researchers, albeit difficult. “But that’s the right thing to do because you want to make a technology that is sustainable and very green,” Tapia-Ruiz said.

But some of the labs and startups that are still working on sodium have made quiet progress in recent decades. Natron, a California -based startup, is building sodium batteries for backup power in industrial facilities and data centers. The company uses a material called Prussian blue as the base of its electrodes, a variation of the early synthetic pigment used in image paints, including Under the Great Wave in Kanagawa. Inside a battery, the design is not very energy efficient, even by sodium standards. But one advantage, according to Jack Pouchet, the company’s vice president of sales, is that “Our supply chain can be local.” It contains common elements such as sodium, manganese, and iron, and the factory is located in Santa Clara, California. For what lacks energy storage, the battery can be charged and provide high energy. Oomph over the range. The company hopes its batteries can be used to easily charge electric cars when the power grid is small. Natron continues with plans to install such devices in San Diego, according to Pouchet.

Another goal of the company is safety. The pouchet focuses on incidents of grid battery storage operations, including a major fire at a battery facility in australian and overheating in another installation California, as raising concerns about the ability to place batteries in everyone’s home, no matter how rare the fires are. “I don’t want that to be in my garage,” he said. The company’s website has video demonstrations of crushing and heating battery packs and firing them with a gun, all with no obvious issues.

But, in general, the safety of sodium batteries is “not perfect,” Meng said, and it depends on the specific design of the battery. It all depends on pairing the right cathode and electrolyte — and eliminating fire risks is more difficult for more energy-intensive batteries, such as those found in cars, or those designed to provide higher energy. time, such as grid storage batteries.



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