New Sodium Battery Throws Shade On Lithium-Ion Energy Storage Dream
The US Department of Energy has been celebrating Made in America Week in its own special way, with loads of good news about renewable energy and clean tech. The latest addition to the list is a “sodium battery” energy storage breakthrough from Brookhaven National Laboratory. It’s great news for the US wind and solar industries but it could send a chill through the spine of lithium-ion battery fans.
Wind And Solar Luv Energy Storage
The US wind and solar industries began to ratchet up during the Obama Administration, and at that time the main criticism was that the wind and the sun are intermittent and should not be counted as reliable sources of electricity in national energy policy.
Well, that was then. In the past few years the energy storage market has exploded, providing a way to bridge dark nights and doldrums.
That’s both a solution and a problem. The problem is that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the main energy storage platform in use today for everything from cell phones to electric vehicles, on up to grid scale battery arrays.
The spiking demand is raising price and supply chain issues, and the Energy Department is among those looking for new, better and cheaper ways to sustain the energy storage revolution.
Here Comes The Sodium Battery
One new energy storage material with great promise is sodium — one of the two main ingredients in common table salt — and the Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory has teamed up with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to take the technology a “decisive” step closer to commercialization.
Energy planners like the idea of sodium because it is cheap, plentiful, and non-toxic. But, there are a number of good reasons why we don’t have sodium batteries today. Brookhaven explains one of them:
…a typical battery’s cathode is made up of metal and oxygen ions arranged in layers. When exposed to air, the metals in a sodium battery’s cathode can be oxidized, decreasing the performance of the battery or even rendering it completely inactive.
The Brookhaven Factor
If the new breakthrough leads to the sodium battery of the future, US taxpayers will get to do a giant group hug.
That’s because the collaboration with China involved the use of a facility at Brookhaven called the National Synchrotron Light Source II.
So, we collectively own “one of the newest and most advanced synchrotron facilities in the world:”
NSLS-II will enable the study of material properties and functions with nanoscale resolution and exquisite sensitivity by providing world-leading capabilities for X-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis.
…NSLS-II provides the research tools needed to foster new discoveries and create breakthroughs in critical areas such as energy security, environment, and human health.
The Sodium Battery Breakthrough
China’s part of the collaboration involved tweaking the cathode to introduce different materials, and positioning those materials at different intervals.
They used NSLS-II to compare their new versions with conventional sodium battery structures.
NSLS-II provides researchers with different types of beamlines. The group used the Inner-Shell Spectroscopy beamline to analyze their samples.