What to Know About Sodium-Ion Batteries for Students in Hybrid and Electrical Mechanic Training

Lithium is the undisputed powerhouse of the world’s battery industry, but it wasn’t always so. A few generations ago, sodium was the element that was being touted as the key infrastructure of future batteries. And now, necessitated by dwindling global supplies of lithium and spurred by a breakthrough in sodium-ion battery technology, sodium may just be making its way back into relevance. 

Despite packing lower energy density (compared to lithium-ion batteries), sodium-ion batteries boast great potential for powering electric vehicles (EVs) as well as in electric grids. 

If you’re considering hybrid and electrical mechanic training, you may be interested in learning what these potentials are and how they might impact current and future EV standards. Read on to find out more. 

Sodium-ion Batteries Promise Longer Cycle Life

One of the first things you’ll find out about EV batteries in hybrid and electrical mechanic training is that they lose a major part of their capacity due to charge cycling. Sodium-ion batteries, due to their lower energy density, were especially affected. However, they may enjoy a better lifespan in the future. 

According to the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), lead researchers of this project, the electrolyte in batteries serves as the energy’s “blood,” keeping it flowing. Salts are dissolved in solvents to produce the electrolyte, which flows between the positive and negative electrodes as charged ions. 

Sodium-ion batteries will offer a lengthier lifespan by maintaining their capacity over more charging cycles.

The electrochemical reactions that maintain the energy flow becomes sluggish with time, and the battery is unable to recharge. Compared to lithium-ion batteries, this process occurs far more quickly in modern sodium-ion battery technologies.

To solve that issue, the PNNL team came up with a novel electrolyte composition by changing the liquid solution and the type of salt flowing through it. The result of this experiment was revealing, not to mention groundbreaking. The scientists were able to extend the number of charging cycles of their test subject (a coin-sized battery) with very little loss of capacity. 

Sodium-ion Batteries & Safety

EV batteries have taken major strides forward in recent years, but safety still remains a key issue with them, as every hybrid and electric vehicle mechanic can attest. Sodium-ion batteries, being a lot more unstable than lithium-ion batteries, are more susceptible to overheating and spontaneous combustion. Sodium’s instability is one of the reasons why it has largely been overlooked up to this point. 

After automotive school, you might see that sodium-ion batteries are more stable, resistant to temperature changes, and environmentally friendly.

The tide may be about to change with PNNL’s recent breakthrough. The recently created sodium-ion technology from PNNL researchers uses a naturally fire-extinguishing solution that is also resistant to temperature changes and capable of high-voltage operation. The ultrathin layer of protection that develops on the anode is one factor in this property. Once produced, this extremely thin layer maintains its stability, resulting in the long cycle life the PNNL claims. 

Beyond this, the researchers believe that sodium-ion batteries’ stability can be improved with the reduction or removal of cobalt from the solution. 

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