Look around you, how many devices can you count that are battery powered? Most of our everyday devices are powered by lithium-ion batteries, even the smartphone that you are using right now. The lithium-ion technology was first picked by Sony in 1991 and its success resulted in it to be rapidly used to this day. From laptops and electronic watches to electric vehicles and large scale batteries like that installed on an Australian Wind Farm by Tesla.
A prototype of Li-ion battery was first proposed by British chemist M. Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s however, it was never considered practical due to its steep manufacturing cost and the toxic nature of Titanium Disulfide used in the battery. It was later in the early 1980s that researchers like John Goodenough from Oxford University were able to give a demonstration for a safe and rechargeable Li-ion battery. Using the principles of electrolysis, a lithium cobalt oxide cathode, and a graphite anode were used with the electrolyte sandwiched between the two plates to conduct charge.
In recent years, scientists and researchers are trying to find new and sustainable substances to make batteries. Despite the fact that there is abundant lithium present on Earth, its location makes mining rather inconvenient. In addition to that, cobalt is expensive and environmentalists have been raising ethical concerns regarding its mining practices. A potential solution to this? Sodium-ion batteries.
Sodium-ion batteries do not require cobalt electrodes and sodium itself is present in ample amounts in most countries. Moreover, it is rather safe as the cell can be completely discharged to 0 Volts. The major issue, that was also noted by John Goodenough, is that since sodium ions are larger than that of lithium ions, the amount of energy stored in any given volume is drastically lower than that stored in a Li-ion battery. Sodium technology would surely be most useful for stationary applications where the lack of space and the application’s mobility is not an issue.
Regardless, companies see the potential in this technology and are trying to develop replacements for lead-acid batteries with sodium-ion batteries instead. This would be low cost and would be able to power bikes, scooters, and rickshaws. Even so, universities like Tokyo University of Science in Japan have academics focused around the understanding and development of sodium-ion batteries in the efforts that it would provide a rather sustainable and clean source of energy in the future.