Let's Get Salty

Researchers from Stanford University have developed an inexpensive alternative to lithium-ion batteries that could better help us prepare for a renewable energy future. The group was able to create a sodium-based battery that can store the same amount of energy as a lithium-based battery at less than 80 percent of the cost. Other researchers have created sodium-based batteries in the past, but this new approach promises to be more cost-effective.

“Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance,” said chemical engineer Zhenan Bao “But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.”

The sodium in the Stanford battery binds to a compound called myo-inositol, an organic compound found in household products like baby formula. And, just as sodium is much more abundant than lithium, myo-inositol can easily be derived from rice bran or found in the byproducts made during the process of milling corn. This will help to make materials gathering cost-effective.

Efficient, cost-effective batteries are critical to the future of renewable energy. Image Credit: Tesla

Batteries are Key

Available access to battery storage is an essential factor in the clean energy revolution. Sources of renewable energy generation like solar and wind are typically reliant on unpredictable environmental factors. Batteries allow excess power to be stored during peak generating conditions and saved for use when conditions are less favorable.

Cheaper sodium-based batteries could help to make renewable power more accessible for regions where the cost of lithium-ion batteries is a significant financial barrier.

The Stanford battery still has a long way to go before it can be adapted into a consumer product. The team's analysis focused on cost-performance comparisons but it did not consider volumetric energy density, or how big the sodium-ion batteries need to be in order to store the same amount of power as lithium-ion batteries.

However, despite the work still to be done, the team is confident that their design can be improved.

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