New Technology Promises To Replace Lithium Batteries With Sodium

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Batteries: From successive folding and rolling of thin sodium plates with a layer of antimony and tellurium powder, scientists are able to create a material that receives the technical name of NST-Na. The novelty is that it can act as a battery, with 100% recharge capacity. The hope is that the new technology can replace older models made with lithium.

The new battery (left) overcomes the problem of older sodium-based technologies (right), such as dendrite formation (Source: Yixian Wang/University of Texas at Austin)
The new battery (left) overcomes the problem of older sodium-based technologies (right), such as dendrite formation (Source: Yixian Wang/University of Texas at Austin)
Source: Yixian Wang/University of Texas at Austin

Scientists have been working for the last decade on batteries to replace the use of lithium and cobalt, elements that are beginning to show a shortage, with cheaper and more environmentally friendly materials. On the periodic table, sodium stands out as a strong candidate.

The demand for energy storage technologies is increasing across the planet. At the same time, lithium mining is criticized because it promotes extensive exploitation of soil and water and generates carbon dioxide emissions, one of those responsible for the greenhouse effect.

Another element used in traditional batteries, cobalt, is also involved in activities that generate environmental damage. In addition, the main sources of these elements in the world are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining causes serious damage to human health and society.

In comparison, sodium mining is cheaper and less harmful to the environment. Furthermore, the element is abundant on the planet.

New material promises more efficient batteries

But until now, batteries made from this element have presented a major challenge: with use, they tend to form sharp filaments called dendrites, which can cause short circuits, fires and explosions.

In a new study, published in the journal Advanced Materials, scientists were able to circumvent this problem using NST-Na. When a battery is in use, ions (lithium or sodium) move from the anode to the cathode. When reloading it, they move in the opposite direction.

Researchers have found that sodium atoms tend to bond more tightly to each other rather than to the anode. This is the phenomenon that eventually leads to the formation of dendrites.

With NST-Na, made from the successive bending and winding process of the sodium plate, the element’s atoms are better distributed in the material. In this way, it becomes less susceptible to dendrite formation.

The battery is also more stable than previous models, has a greater capacity to store energy and allows for faster charging, even compared to conventional ones.

The discovery represents a major advance in the development of these batteries, bringing the end of the use of lithium batteries closer and closer to the present day.