BatteryA new sodium-based battery can store the same amount of energy as a state-of-the-art lithium ion at a substantially lower cost.

As a warming world moves from fossil fuels toward renewable solar and wind energy, industrial forecasts predict an insatiable need for battery farms to store power and provide electricity.

Chemical engineer Zhenan Bao and materials scientists Yi Cui and William Chueh of Stanford University aren’t the first researchers to design a sodium ion battery. But they believe their approach has the price and performance characteristics to create a sodium ion battery that costs less than 80 percent of a lithium ion battery with the same storage capacity.

$150 a ton

“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” Bao says. “But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”

With materials constituting about one-quarter of a battery’s price, the cost of lithium—about $15,000 a ton to mine and refine—looms large. Researchers say that’s why they are basing the new battery on widely available sodium-based electrode material that costs just $150 a ton.


Advances in Sodium Batteries

With energy demands increasing every day, researchers are looking toward the next generation of energy storage technology. While society has depended on the lithium ion battery for these needs for some time, the rarity and expense of the materials needed to produce the battery is beginning to conflict with large-scale storage needs.

To combat this issue, a French team comprised of researchers primarily from CNRS and CEA is making gains in the field of electrochemical energy storage with their new development of an alternative technology for lithium ion batteries in specific sectors.

Beyond Lithium

Instead of the rare and expensive lithium, these researchers are focusing on the use of sodium ions—a more cost efficient and abundant materials. With efficiently levels comparable to that of lithium, many commercial sectors are showing an increasing interest for sodium’s potential in storing renewable energy.

While this development takes the use of sodium to a new level, the idea has been around since the 1980s. However, sodium never took off as the primary battery building material due to low energy densities and short life cycles. It was then that researchers chose to power electronics with lithium for higher efficiency levels.


The Real Science of an Alkali Metal Explosion

You may remember the classic alkali metal explosion demonstration in one of your early chemistry classes. Many educators use this experiment to show the volatile power of chemistry. The thought was that the unstable reaction was caused by the ignition of hydrogen gas, but scientists in the Czech Republic have found new information behind this classic demonstration by using high-speed video.

The researchers began investigating the science behind this experiment by dropping a sodium-potassium alloy droplet into water. From there, they recorded the explosion with a high-speed camera that is capable of capturing 10,000 frames per second.

Of course, there’s a video.