In the continuing search for ever more efficient and cheaper batteries, researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have managed to increase the performance of sodium-nickel chloride batteries in an interesting way – flattening them.
No, not running them down until they’re out of juice, but rather replacing their typical cylindrical shape with a flat disc design. The redesign allows the battery to deliver 30 percent more power at lower temperatures, making them a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
The batteries are made from abundant materials such as alumina, sodium chloride and nickel, making them cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries, while the 30 percent boost in performance reported by the PNNL researchers means they could still offer the performance necessary to compete with lithium-ion batteries in consumer devices. Additionally, sodium-beta batteries aren’t prone to the thermal runaway condition that has seen various lithium-ion batteries catching fire.
Sodium-beta alumina batteries have been around since the 1960s but their traditional tubular, cylindrical shape doesn’t allow for the efficient discharge of stored electrochemical energy. Raising the temperature lowers the battery’s internal resistance but this lowers the cost effectiveness of the battery and shortens its lifespan. These issues resulted in them being surpassed by the better performing lithium-ion batteries that power the bulk of our mobile electronic devices today.
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