CATL Launches Its First Commercial Salt-Based Battery For EVs
(Credit: CATL)
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CATL Launches Its First Commercial Salt-Based Battery For EVs

Salt is a cheap and abundant material that has plenty to offer. We’ve seen lamps that convert half a liter of saltwater into 45 days of light, gold films that use sunlight to produce hydrogen from salt, and even salty coatings for masks that kill coronavirus within minutes. Now, salt has proven it could have game-changing effects in battery chemistry too!

A significant amount of the cost and difficulty in sourcing scarcer lithium could be avoided by leveraging salt. Chinese giant CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd) is leading the way by launching its first commercial sodium-ion battery.

Like lithium batteries that power laptops, smartphones, digital cameras, and much of the modern world, sodium batteries move ions between two electrodes – the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) – as the device is charged and discharged.

However, sodium ions have a few downfalls that lithium ions don’t. For example, the ions are more prominent and are prone to forming impurities that can cut the battery life short. In addition, they don’t provide anywhere near the energy density of lithium.

Over the last two years, researchers have developed promising solutions to these problems. Some have added extra salt to make the batteries last longer, and others have incorporated thin layers of copper to boost their performance. Meanwhile, some have produced substantially safer, fast-charging lithium batteries that still perform well and use aqueous electrolytes instead of the typical organic electrolytes.

To overcome these issues with sodium-ion batteries, CATL researchers used a hard and porous carbon material for the anode and tweaked the structure of another material called Prussian White to rearrange the electrons. These materials form vital components of the company’s first commercial sodium-ion battery, which boasts impressive performance figures.

The battery claims an energy density of up to 160 Wh/kg, far from the density offered by lithium batteries of 285 Wh/kg. Additionally, it can be charged to 80% capacity in only 15 minutes at room temperature and maintain 90% of its capacity in temperatures of -4°F (-20°C).

CATL Launches Its First Commercial Salt-Based Battery For EVs
(Credit: CATL)

As a result, CATL is confident its new salt-based battery is well-suited to electric transportation, particularly in colder areas. On that note, lithium batteries’ energy density is one of the things holding electric transportation back, particularly in aviation, and a density of 160 Wh/kg isn’t going to solve that problem. However, CATL has also come up with a way to address this density issue.

Together with its sodium-ion battery, the company has also unveiled a mix-and-match storage solution called the AB battery pack. This integrates sodium-ion and lithium-ion cells into one system, with an algorithm managing the energy flow, compensating for the sodium-ion components’ lower density and optimizing its performance.

Finally, CATL claims the battery can also be adapted for use in larger-scale energy storage, joining a handful of other companies making commercial sodium batteries for these purposes. In addition, the Chinese giant (which supplies EV batteries for Tesla) plans to establish an industrial chain to deploy its sodium-ion battery in 2023.

Interestingly, last year, scientists and physicists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory developed a new type of battery that can be soaked, shot, bent, cut, and even lit on fire, and it still works fine. Could it be the foundation for an indestructible lithium-ion battery in the future?

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