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Sodium Batteries Find New Ground in 2017

Amid the massive demand and continuous increase it is facing, the supply chain for lithium-ion batteries has found itself in a precarious situation.

As there are only a limited number of manufacturing facilities for these batteries, China has been able to capture the opportunity of opening megafactories. These are able to relieve the gap of supply and demand by increasing the global graphite processing capacity threefold by 2020.

Despite the improvements in supply, there are concerns that this may still not be enough and that additional resources may be necessary. Another alternative is to look into batteries made of different materials, which is one of the objectives of the research conducted by a team at University of Wollongong, Australia. The team is looking into sodium batteries.

Aware of the batteries’ long, turbulent history in terms of difficulties in mass deployment, capacity fading over time and electrolyte decomposition at high voltage, the team intends to overcome these problems. Their solution targets the wider market by commercialising the batteries for stationary storage applications, conducted via a 5kWh sodium-ion battery pack. Having attracted investment of over $2 million, it is meant to be tested in Sydney sometime in 2019, and whilst the changes to the composition of the battery have not been disclosed, the team has described it as “a new type of sodium battery for storage.”

Another venture that is exploring sodium batteries, attracted by their affordable costs, non-toxic nature, and overall environmental friendliness, is the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the USA. Initial testing has showed significant stability in the batteries; one key finding was a 9-time improvement in capacity retention after 500 cycles, which has been one of the prohibitive problems before.

Currently, sodium batteries are used in electric vehicles in Italy as well as a hybrid wind and storage system in Japan. They have also been successfully used in transmission system operators in Europe.

Dashboard thinks that whilst currently the traditional lithium-ion batteries are sufficient, they are not a sustainable strategy for long-term planning. Because of this it is important to look for new solutions, and reworking olds ones (as is the case with sodium batteries) can also prove successful. Therefore, we welcome the initiative from both teams.