This is the first sodium-ion battery packaged in an industrial (18650) size. Rechargeable sodium-ion batteries have been on the horizon for decades and could become a cheaper, more accessible alternative to the lithium-ions that power electronics like cell phones, laptops, and electric cars.
Vincent Guilly/CEA
By Hilary Brueck
December 1, 2015

Care for a little salt with your rechargeable battery? Researchers in France have announced their first prototype for a compact sodium-ion battery.

Though scores of sodium-ion batteries have been in the works for decades, this model is the first to put a salty solution into a sleek, rechargeable format—but don’t go throwing your old lithium-ion batteries out the window just yet. Chemist Jean-Marie Tarascon, who helped developed the battery, says it will probably be about 5 to 10 years before this model is on the market.

Developed by a team of battery researchers based at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, the new sodium-ion 168A is a standard rechargeable that’s a little larger than the household AA (168As are used in laptops, e-cigarettes, and electric cars such as Teslas). And while the battery might not be on par with the power of today’s lithium-ions, the prototype compares well with some of the very first Sony (SNE) lithium-ions of the early 1990s: With a decent energy density, it can hold upward of 2,000 charges and recharges before shirking on performance.

The thought is that these new sodium-ion batteries, with a little tweaking, might become a competitor in certain parts of the multibillion dollar lithium-ion battery market (forecast to grow to more than $33 billion by 2019). Sodium, readily available around the world, could provide a more abundant—and cheaper—alternative. While today’s cell phone and computer-powering Li-ions are made from more rare volcanic rocks and brine pool salts, sodium-ion batteries could be harvested from things like seawater.

Other researchers have suggested their own fixes for a potential upcoming lithium shortage like harvesting algae, but so far none have been able to get their tech into a compartment quite this small.

In order to really compete for a spot inside the consumer lithium-ion battery market, the new batteries will need to get faster and stronger. Just this November, Huawei unveiled its latest, fastest lithium-ion charging technology—boosting a phone up roughly 50 percent in just five minutes. If the French can get their model to compete, then they just may be worth their salt in the battery market.


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