By adding the right amount of heat, researchers have developed a method that improves the electrical capacity and recharging lifetime of sodium ion rechargeable batteries, which could be a cheaper alternative for large-scale uses such as storing energy on the electrical grid.
To connect solar and wind energy sources to the electrical grid, grid managers require batteries that can store large amounts of energy created at the source. Lithium ion rechargeable batteries — common in consumer electronics and electric vehicles — perform well, but are too expensive for widespread use on the grid because many batteries will be needed, and they will likely need to be large. Sodium is the next best choice, but the sodium-sulfur batteries currently in use run at temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius, or three times the temperature of boiling water, making them less energy efficient and safe than batteries that run at ambient temperatures.
Battery developers want the best of both worlds — to use both inexpensive sodium and use the type of electrodes found in lithium rechargeables. A team of scientists at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and visiting researchers from Wuhan University in Wuhan, China used nanomaterials to make electrodes that can work with sodium, they reported June 3 online in the journal Advanced Materials.
“The sodium-ion battery works at room temperature and uses sodium ions, an ingredient in cooking salt. So it will be much cheaper and safer,” said PNNL chemist Jun Liu, who co-led the study with Wuhan University chemist Yuliang Cao.