Sodium is a common element, usually extracted from soda ash, but can basically be found anywhere, including sea water and marsh peat. It also happens to be very suitable for the type of application Meng described. Ions are heavier and heavier than lithium ions, which means you can’t pack that much energy into a small space, such as the belly of a car. “A place where sodium batteries can have a significant impact on the grid,” explains Nuria Tapia-Ruiz, a professor at Lancaster University and director of the Faraday Institute’s sodium battery program. These batteries can be a little bigger and heavier, but this is not important because they only need to be seated firmly.
Tapia-Ruiz said that historically, sodium batteries have been hampered, partly because of chemical stability. Although sodium and lithium are periodic neighbors, they exist in a parallel chemical world and differ from the reactions of various elements and compounds. This means that switching to sodium ions requires the development of new materials for the cathode and anode of the battery. The positive and negative electrodes capture and release ions when the battery is charged and depleted. A particular problem is that the chemical reaction inside the battery will corrode the electrolyte between the electrodes, thereby shortening the battery life or possibly producing metallic sodium that may explode. Another challenge is that energy-intensive sodium batteries usually contain nickel, as do many lithium batteries. Eliminating this metal is a key issue for researchers, albeit difficult. “But this is the right approach, because you want to create a sustainable and very green technology,” Tapia-Ruiz said.
But in recent decades, the few laboratories and startups that still use sodium have made progress. Natron is a California-based start-up company that manufactures sodium batteries as a backup power source for industrial facilities and data centers.The company uses a material called Prussian Blue as the basis for its electrodes, which is a variation of the early synthetic pigments used in iconic paintings, including Under the huge waves of Kanagawa. Inside the battery, even in accordance with the sodium standard, this design is not particularly high energy density. But according to Jack Pouchet, the company’s vice president of sales, one advantage is that “our supply chain can be local.” It contains common elements such as sodium, manganese, and iron. The factory is located in Santa Clara, California. Due to lack of energy storage, batteries can be quickly charged and distributed energy. Beyond range. The company hopes that its batteries can be used to quickly charge electric cars when the power grid becomes thinner. Pouchet said Natron is advancing plans to install such equipment in San Diego.
Another focus of the company is safety. Pouchet pointed out accidents in grid battery storage operations, including Australia And overheated in another installation California, Because it raises concerns about the desirability of placing batteries in everyone’s house, no matter how rare these fires may be. “I don’t want to put that in my garage,” he said. The company’s website provides a demonstration video of smashing and heating battery packs and shooting them with a gun, all without obvious problems.
However, in general, the safety of sodium batteries is “not perfect,” Meng said, depending on the specific battery design. It all comes down to matching the correct cathode and electrolyte-for higher energy density batteries (such as batteries in cars) or those designed to distribute energy over a longer period of time (such as grid batteries), eliminating the risk of fire is even more important. difficulty.