Professor Hanington’s Science Talk: Go Lithium, Make Way For Sodium Batteries | Lifestyles
We use batteries every day. From cell phones that need to be recharged every night to the heavy lead acid types that start our cars, batteries are an important part of our lives. Very soon we will take care of the batteries in our electric vehicles, charge them, change them, buy replacement batteries and watch endless advertisements touting their capabilities and prices. It happens quickly, so you need to prepare for it and understand the technology. As it stands, the sealed lithium battery appears to be the only competitor in town that can deliver the power an automobile needs. It is lightweight and can provide the current needed for instant acceleration. All electric cars today use lithium battery chemistry. Its open cell potential is over 3.6 volts compared to the 2.2 volts output of lead-acid types, which is important when you don’t want to waste power due to voltage drops. You may remember the nickel-cadmium battery that was very popular in the 1970s. This guy suffered a quiet death because its output was only 1.25 volts – certainly not usable for a cell phone, not to mention the fact that cadmium is considered a toxic metal, even more dangerous than lead.
As recently as last week, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories devised a new class of molten sodium batteries for large-scale energy storage that this author says will one day be suitable for propelling vehicles, very probably over the next decade. The breakthrough was published in the July issue of the scientific journal Cell Reports Physical Science which describes the invention in detail. Although created primarily to provide large-scale electrical energy storage, this type of battery will be adopted for automobiles as there is little lithium readily available in the world. If you Google “the world’s supply of lithium” you will find that the number of lithium-ion batteries available for recycling by 2030 will simply not be enough to meet the growing demand. The new Sandia cell uses elemental sodium and sulfur, the availability of which is virtually unlimited and costs pennies a pound. Because sodium can be extracted from seawater and sulfur from most igneous rocks, no country will have a monopoly on the element.