Tech

The first sodium batteries are becoming a reality

Present and future of batteries

A few years ago the devices that each of us had that used batteries could be counted practically on the fingers of our hands. The rest, the majority, continued to depend on a home or office electrical outlet to be able to use them.

Today, however, all that has changed and what is strange is having devices that do not integrate their own battery. And of course, that in terms of the user experience, mobility, etc., is great. But for the industry it is a major problem. Because the materials used to manufacture current batteries are rising in price worryingly.

Getting lithium, cobalt and nickel costs more and more and that even the great battery boom did not come. But it will do so shortly, because the automotive sector is going to need large batteries for its electric car proposals. So imagine how the market can change and what it could mean for the prices of other devices.

That is why many researchers are looking for alternatives to the current lithium batteries that are the most popular and used today. This is how sodium batteries were born, an option developed by Contemporary Amperex Technology among others and which already has its first functional version.

How a sodium ion battery works

So far, as we have said before, the most popular batteries are lithium. These, to be exact, make use of lithium ions that have the ability to offer a very high energy density. Thanks to this, the autonomy and the useful life of the component are one of its great advantages. Although it has some drawbacks.

The first is the one that affects the materials used for its manufacture. Both cobalt and lithium are scarce and increasingly expensive. For this reason and for other risks that their use may entail when they are of generous size, some researchers are working on alternatives.

Because a large lithium battery can pose a great risk also if it does not meet minimum quality standards. And even so, an overload, a blow or impact as well as being exposed to possible extreme temperatures could cause major accidents.

This is how the first experiments with sodium were born, a material that is easier to obtain from both the oceans and the earth’s crust. Also, currently with as much quantity as there is it is cheap. So, managing to create batteries using it would allow to reduce costs significantly. Without missing the advantage of being more sustainable for the future of the planet, because it is “harvested” and not extracted.

The problem is that until now the first proposals had suffered degradation problems and a lower storage capacity. Of course, first a brief explanation of how they work.

The idea behind a sodium battery is similar to a lithium one, only it is replaced by sodium. In this way, the material in the form of sodium ions is transformed into a metal and placed on a copper foil. When it dissolves, it moves from one point to another and that is how (roughly) energy is generated.

The first functional sodium battery is from CATL

Now CATL has announced that has developed what would be the first generation of sodium batteries ready for commercial deployment. That is, ready to be used in each and every one of those devices that demand them. And everything seems to point to electric cars.

The sodium or Na ion battery created by CATL, a Chinese giant that already manufactures batteries for the main brands in the sector such as Tesla, Toyota, BMW or Vokswagen, promises a good energy density and greater term stability that is important for operation in vehicles exposed to both high and low temperatures.

Also, these Na batteries would offer lower charging times. The 80% charge could be achieved in just 15 minutes, which is not bad considering the autonomy that would later offer vehicles. Which logically will be below solutions that use lithium ions, but the 160 Wh / kg They are not bad at all compared to the 200-250 Wh / kg of the current Lithium-Ion.

However, the CATL battery seems to combine cells with sodium ions and others with lithium. Although even further refinement in future versions that seems to be the least of the problems. Because the advantage is that not all of it is made with lithium.

So with all this, the idea of ​​CATL is that from 2023 large-scale production is already working optimally. To be able to continue advancing and improve energy density in future generations.

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