A team of researchers in France has taken a major step towards powering our devices with rechargeable batteries based on an element that is far more abundant and cheaper than lithium. For the first time ever, a battery has been developed using sodium ions in the industry standard "18650" format used in laptop batteries, LED flashlights and the Tesla Model S, among other products.
"The sodium-ion battery unveiled today is directly inspired by lithium-ion technology," explains solid-state chemist Jean-Marie Tarascon from France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
In other words, like the lithium ions in lithium-ion batteries, sodium ions travel from one electrode to another through liquid during charging and use cycles without modifying the materials in the battery. The researchers are keeping those specific materials a trade secret for now, but the performance of the prototype battery is promising.
"Its energy density is comparable to certain lithium-ion batteries, such as the lithium-ion iron/phosphate battery," points out Loïc Simonin, a collaborating researcher at LITEN (Le Laboratoire d'Innovation pour les Technologies des Energies Nouvelles).
While lithium has until now had the advantage of being lighter than sodium and providing more energy, the element is also rare, while sodium is accessible and abundant, making up over 2.6 percent of the Earth's crust.
The team is hoping to bring inexpensive sodium-ion batteries that can be used across a wide variety of applications to market in Europe as soon as possible.
"The 18650 format enables us to provide proof of concept , and compare the performance of our batteries with those of similar format that are already available on the market. However, other formats will need to be designed to meet new requirements," explains Simonin.