February 24, 2024
Electric Vehicles

New Sodium-Ion Battery Cathode Innovation Could Revolutionize Electric Vehicles

A groundbreaking innovation in cathode material for sodium-ion batteries has the potential to make electric vehicles (EVs) more affordable and sustainable. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode material that replaces lithium ions with sodium, significantly reducing the cost of EV batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are currently the primary power source for EVs, but they come with a hefty price tag. By replacing lithium with sodium, the cost of a sodium-ion battery could be reduced by approximately one-third, according to Christopher Johnson, senior chemist and Argonne distinguished fellow. The development of sodium-ion batteries has been a focus of research at Argonne for over a decade, and this new cathode material could make them a more cost-effective and sustainable option for EVs.

The breakthrough innovation stems from previous research conducted by Johnson and his team on a new cathode material for lithium-ion batteries. This material, known as lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) oxide, is now used in the batteries of the Chevy Volt and Bolt, as well as other EVs. Building on this knowledge, the team developed a sodium nickel-manganese-iron (NMF) oxide cathode specifically designed for sodium-ion batteries.

The new cathode material offers several advantages over lithium-ion batteries. Sodium is more abundant and readily available than lithium, making it considerably cheaper. Additionally, sodium-ion batteries can retain their charging capability at below-freezing temperatures, which has been a drawback of lithium-ion batteries. The design and manufacturing technology for sodium-ion batteries closely resemble that of lithium-ion batteries, making their integration into existing systems more feasible.

However, there is one trade-off to using sodium-ion batteries: they are heavier than lithium-ion batteries due to the weight of sodium metal. This added weight can reduce the driving range of EVs. While this may deter consumers seeking long driving ranges, it can be an appealing option for budget-conscious consumers, particularly those in urban areas with shorter daily commutes.

One of the challenges that sodium-ion batteries face is their short cycle life. However, with the new cathode material developed by Johnson’s team, these batteries can be charged and discharged for the same number of cycles as lithium-ion batteries. Testing of the cathode material is currently underway in Argonne’s Cell Analysis, Modeling, and Prototyping Facility. If successful, the material could be chosen for manufacturing, potentially revolutionizing the EV market.

Aside from transportation, sodium-ion batteries also have potential applications in renewable energy storage for electric grids. With their ability to operate at low temperatures and the lower emphasis on weight in grid applications, sodium-ion batteries could play a significant role in the growing market for grid batteries.

The development of the new sodium-ion battery cathode material highlights Argonne’s dedication to sustainable energy solutions. By replacing lithium with sodium, concerns over the availability and cost of low-cost elements for future vehicle batteries could be alleviated. This innovation brings us one step closer to more affordable and eco-friendly transportation solutions.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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