A new study conducted by University of Birmingham researchers now appears to have taken several steps forward toward a new sodium-ion battery technology that could hold as much as seven times the charge of the current lithium-ion solution. However, as shown in an article titled ‘New high-capacity sodium-ion could replace lithium in rechargeable batteries’ and published in the Journal of American Chemical Society, the biggest long-standing issue has been storage of sodium ions themselves. The problem arises from the fact that a sodium ion is large enough to not fit between the graphite carbon layers found in conventional lithium-ion batteries. Previous posited solutions have included glass substrates and other materials that, for the time being, don’t appear to have panned out. According to this more recent study, the best intermediary for the batteries may actually be phosphorus. The chemical element was settled on using complex quantum mechanical models run on supercomputers in 2016, followed by subsequent studies.
Those studies not only showed that the element forms helices during charging and that the final ‘composition’ of the phosphorus sodium-ion battery, by weight, is around seven times that of current battery technology. It could also prove useful in addressing problems with availability of materials and charging speed, according to the scientists. That’s not necessarily surprising either since both highly-reactive chemical elements are very common. Phosphorus is the eleventh most common element found on Earth while sodium – derivable from sodium chloride, widely known as salt – is the sixth most common. That also solves additional problems with sourcing materials for the ever-growing demand for portable power supplies since the currently used lithium is not only difficult to come by geographically but also requires a lot of potable water to process. What’s more, pending further testing and research the combination of the two elements may be able to resolve issues related to the instability of lithium-ion batteries and their tendency to catch fire or explode. That would likely make them better for the environment as well as saving money and reducing harm to people both directly and indirectly.
Bearing that in mind, there is still plenty of research and, if all goes well, development to be done before sodium-ion batteries are powering the electronics of the future. Lithium-ion cells took over a decade to become commercially viable and then ubiquitous in technology. The researchers involved in the experimentation have not indicated that the new chemical fusion is ready for use by manufacturers or indicated that any talks are underway to explore real-world use. So the news should be taken with a grain of salt, as it were, for the time being.