Posted: 13.04.2023 11:34:00

Gold may be easily told!

The first sodium batteries become a reality: scientists from the National Academy of Sciences have developed a unique sodium-graphene battery

Along with the current shortage of chips, batteries present one of the technology industry’s biggest challenges. The demand for this type of component and the emerging shortage of lithium are forcing manufacturers to look for other ways  to meet the needs of electric vehicles and mobile electronics. One of the alternatives to lithium-based batteries is sodium-based batteries — they are cheaper, safer and more affordable. However, their performance leaves much to be desired. Belarusian scientists proposed their own solution to this problem: they created a scooter on the world’s first sodium-graphene battery.

Head of the Laboratory of Physical and Chemical Technologies Vladimir Novikov

At full speed

The National Academy of Sciences and the leading enterprises of the country’s engineering industry are developing numerous technical and technological solutions in the field of batteries for electric vehicles. They have repeatedly proven that they can create breakthrough technologies. So, scientists of the Scientific-Practical Materials Research Centre of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus were the first to develop a unique sodium-graphene battery. They were able to achieve parameters that are comparable to lithium-based batteries today. Moreover, theoretically, this type of battery can provide power, capacity and other indicators higher than that of similar traction batteries using lithium. 
The first prototype of a sodium-graphene traction battery for electric vehicles was presented at the Intellectual Belarus exhibition. “We promised the President to create our domestic lithium-free battery, and we did it. This is a very important and necessary innovation for the country. We have reached approximately the same parameters as lithium batteries,” Director General of the Scientific-Practical Materials Research Centre of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Valery Fedosyuk said back then. He promised to fine-tune the technology and show a more advanced battery at the next exhibition.
Specialists of the Laboratory of Physical and Chemical Technologies are currently working on the modification of the prototype. Scientists are turning to various materials in search of new, more effective options, including sodium, the Head of the Laboratory Vladimir Novikov says, “Sodium-based batteries are safer than lithium-ion batteries. These are alkali metals, both are very active. The catch is in the size of the atoms of these elements. The sodium atom is three times heavier than the lithium atom. That is, if we simply replace lithium with sodium, then with the same design we will get a battery with a capacity three times lower. We figured out how to change the design and composition of electrode materials in order to level out this difference.”

A site for the production of single crystals of diamond in the Laboratory of High Pressure Physical and Superhard Materials

Scientists have realised that everyone is now engaged in lithium-based batteries, the competition in this sector is tough. It is possible to achieve significant results and declare oneself at the international level only by taking up something new. The cumulative experience in the field of electrochemistry and graphene-like materials, made it possible to create the first prototype of a sodium-based battery in a very short time, Vladimir Novikov says, “We have developed a new way to synthesise graphene. Simple, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Similar carbon materials are used in many types of energy storage devices. We tried to make a fragment of a supercapacitor for BELAZ electric forklifts, and we succeeded.”
Junior research assistant Igor Sidorov studies
the properties of graphene
However, the market for supercapacitors is small, and advances in conventional batteries have been so rapid that scientists have moved on to developing sodium-based batteries. There was equipment for studying electrochemical processes, graphene production technology and competencies too. Experts have figured out how to increase the electrical capacity of sodium-based batteries and achieve values close to lithium ones. 
It turns out that there is only 7 percent lithium in a lithium-based battery, the rest is excipients. Increasing the percentage of lithium entails a lot of problems, Vladimir Novikov explains without getting into technical details, “A short circuit occurs and the battery fails. Until now, this problem, which hinders progress in the field of electric vehicles, has not been fully resolved in the world. We have selected additives to the electrolyte in such a way that no short circuit occurs. That is, due to a more concentrated electrode, we partially compensate for the difference in the atomic masses of sodium and lithium, bring the characteristics of a sodium-based battery closer to a lithium one.”
Now the energy capacity of a sodium-based battery is 150 Wh/kg, its lithium counterpart is 200 Wh/kg. Work to improve this indicator is ongoing. 

Sodium prospects

Given the high cost of lithium and the scarcity of its deposits (it is mined in eight countries: Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe, China, Portugal, the USA and Chile), the new sodium-based battery will provide a higher economic benefit. This, in turn, opens up great prospects for the domestic auto industry. Also, all the raw materials used to create this drive are domestic, which is important while maintaining industrial sovereignty. In addition to sodium, the ammonia and graphene present in the battery are also produced in Belarus. The latter is obtained from inexpensive Russian graphite.
The new energy storage device  has been tested on small electric vehicles

Another advantage is that sodium-based batteries do not need cobalt, which is required in lithium-ion batteries. Much of the cobalt used today to make lithium-ion batteries comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rebellions, unorganised mining and child labour create uncertainty and ethical qualms about the cobalt trade.
The launch of small-scale production of sodium-based batteries is ahead. It is going to be organised in the premises of the Institute. Having worked on a small series of technologies and having studied the possibilities of new batteries for car keys, they will release a line for scooters. Then they will begin to create more powerful samples — for motorcycles. So, step by step, the turn of electric vehicles, electric buses and other environmentally friendly vehicles will come. This means that electric cars can become significantly cheaper, as well as radically increase the range of autonomous travel. 
The next task is a bigger battery, already for electric vehicles

“First of all, sodium-based batteries can be used as stationary energy storage devices. By gradually improving performance, we will be able to convert the transport sector to new batteries, for example, electric cars in factories. Then the city passenger equipment and sightseeing transport, which travels along a given short route. As we move along the characteristics in the direction of their improvement, we have every chance to enter electric vehicles,” Vladimir Novikov believes.
Belarusian scientists are already exploring the possibility of establishing partnerships with a number of enterprises of the Industry Ministry. Moreover, not only Belarusian, but also Russian.

The new sodium-based battery will provide a higher economic benefit.
This, in turn, opens up great prospects for the domestic auto industry.

By Inna Gorbatenko