UK Research Firm Proposes Sodium-Ion Battery Technology

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Cambridge, U.K.-based market research firm IDTechEx released a statement yesterday (Jan. 10) on how it believes sodium-ion batteries are safer, more practical, less expensive, more sustainable and potentially higher performing than “traditional” lithium-ion batteries. The company announced it has scheduled a free webinar, Decoding Sodium-ion: Market Insights and Outlook, on the topic, scheduled for Jan. 25. In addition, the company’s website has a detailed report on the topic.

IDTechEx Senior Technology Analyst Shazan Siddiqi, a veteran of the Tata Motors advanced manufacturing team, said sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries can be made with widely obtainable, inexpensive materials, sodium being much more readily and sustainably available than lithium. And an Na-ion battery can use aluminum anode current collectors rather than copper, as used in lithium-ion batteries, mitigating supply chain risk as well as reducing cost. And while lithium-ion batteries must be stored with a 30 percent charge, sodium-ion batteries can be stored and shipped at zero volts, reducing risk during the transportation process.

Siddiqi adds that Na-ion batteries’ electrolytes have a higher flash point than lithium-ion systems, reducing the flammability risk that has dogged the advance of current battery technology. And the announcement further notes that the production process for sodium-ion batteries is similar enough to that of lithium-ion batteries that scaling up the manufacturing for the new technology infrastructure can piggyback on existing facilities.

IDTechEx acknowledges that the energy density of today’s lithium-ion batteries is still superior to that of sodium-ion units, “but they are approaching the energy density of high-power lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cells.” And sodium is 3.3 times as heavy as lithium, though the company points out that those materials make up a small percentage of the batteries’ overall mass.

As for cost, IDTechEx cites estimates of as much as 30 percent reduction in materials costs for the new batteries compared with a current generation battery. Accordingly, Siddiqi writes, “The sodium-ion chemistry will certainly not be the answer for all applications; however, it will be well-suited to complement, rather than displace, the existing and future lithium-ion technologies in many applications.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds good. Lithium batteries have so many shortcomings anything would be an improvement but I remain skeptical. I’ll believe it when I see it mainstream.

  2. One thing never changes. If a battery improves in one area, you will loose in another. The only solution is onboard generating. As long as you charge while in use, the cycle life is nearly endless. That is why we have alternators in our cars. The only thing that takes the life out of your car battery is starting, high heat or cold and sitting for long periods of time.

  3. How is this aviation news? Battery-powered aircraft are far from being practical for almost all applications and this doesn’t change that reality.

    • Because I still remember the days of “Dura-Leak” batteries and countless numbers of destroyed electronic devices due to leaking batteries. This frustration continues in that my company will put a $0.50 battery in an $800 piece of test equipment. The last straw was $2.00 worth of batteries in a $23,000 test article; batteries leaked and cost $5k to repair.

      At the very least, I can store a flashlight in my flight bag and be rather confident that it will work 10 months from now and no leaks.

      I also remember the frustration of Ni-Cads and the countless corpse of dead batteries lining the shop. Dare not throw any one of them away for it might be good for a 60 second turn of a screw.

      Then, there is your, practical, battery powered aircraft. You know, the battery that starts your plane and powers your radios and avionics? A lithium battery can save pounds, not ounces, and perhaps for some aircraft, give you a few more inches of CG to play with. Sometimes those few inches can bring a big sigh of relief depending on W&B.

      So, keep whittling buggy whips and using lighted airways. I appreciate the R&D.

  4. R&D about energy storage is always a good thing. It might not be ready for many applications but again. R&D is always a good thing.

  5. Longevity, energy density, weight, and cost, & safety. If they can R & D these to parallel Li, there’ll be a big market for them. It’ll be a while in coming I suspect.

  6. While these incremental improvements in battery technology are certainly welcome, the unfortunate fact is that what is needed is order of magnitude improvement, and that remains a dream.

  7. With all due respect, the phrase “…three times as heavy…” is meaningless in terms of being lighter. The correct expression is “…one third the weight of (or mass, height, length, etc)…”.

    • I too take offence when one object is described as being x times lighter than another – but, in fact, sodium IS the heavier of the two (by that factor of 3.3).

  8. More sustainable? on-board charger? Less flammable?

    I am beginning to see that we will never get an apology from those who have been promoting battery powered flight for the last decade. All we will ever see is “New Research” that finally starts to addresses all of our ACCURATE concerns. Oh well, being right is it’s own reward.

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