Sodium is the New Lithium: The Future of Rechargeable Batteries

Lithium-Ion batteries are awesome. A few of them jammed into a battery grip can keep your DSLR going through a long day of shooting without needing to recharge a thing. But before you can to do that you need to buy the extra batteries, and they don’t come cheap. A new EN-EL18 battery for a Nikon D4 will run you $184 on Amazon right now, and even for cheaper battery units you’re still looking at $50 on up per battery regardless of your DSLR.

Fortunately, this may be changing in the semi-near future: researchers in Japan have developed a new kind of electrode that could one day lead to rechargeable batteries made using sodium — an element that’s much more abundant than lithium. Their initial prototype began to hold less charge after 30 cycles, but once the kinks are worked out the abundance of sodium could lead to some significantly cheaper batteries. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be walking into WalMart trying to find the Na-ion DSLR battery 5-pack for $50 in the ad… fingers crossed.

(via Nature via The Verge)

Image credit: Dnn87 via Wikipedia

  • Chris Szulwach

    At that point I don’t think too many DSLR cameras will be around :-)

  • Kevin

    Un-bonded sodium ions tend to be very explosive when exposed to water. I see this as a potential problem.

  • Suman0102

     Maybe this analogy is appropriate: gasoline is extremely flammable. I see this as a potential problem when implemented as fuel for cars.

  • Michael Rasmussen

    You mean walk into Walmart looking for the $5 battery pack.  

  • wickerprints

    Ultimately the chemistry of the battery is secondary to the energy density.  Furthermore, on a molar basis, sodium is a significantly heavier element than lithium.  Any such battery would need to pack more charge in the same volume, provide better response in devices that draw lots of power (e.g., strobes), better recharge performance and lifetime, and remain portable.

    Indeed, if these criteria can be met without the use of rare elements, production is likely to be cheaper and the products would be more affordable.

  • perceptionalreality

    So you’re saying you believe those batteries are $50+ ($184…) because Lithium is rare? 

    You’ve clearly never enjoyed the benefits of aftermarket batteries with higher capacity at a fraction of the cost. 

  • wickerprints

     “Rare” is relative.  Lithium isn’t really an exceptionally rare element–there are, of course, far rarer elements that are used in various industrial applications.  But consider how many devices now exist that rely on lithium-ion chemistry, and immediately we can at least appreciate that the availability of lithium ores and the recyclability of existing batteries becomes economically crucial.  By contrast, an abundant element like sodium (present in a variety of feldspathic rocks, not to mention common salt) could not succumb to scarcity no matter how much demand we put on it.  Furthermore, it should be economically, energetically, and environmentally feasible to extract and process the sodium for such purposes.

    But regarding your point–that the high cost of lithium-ion batteries is not due to the cost of the lithium itself–is largely valid.  Aside from the technological aspects such as the presence of internal electronics to control the rate of charge and discharge, many of these batteries are expensive simply because of the lack of competition.  There is a significant markup for these consumables.  Whether that would change if sodium-ion chemistry becomes viable, I can’t say for sure–it depends on how easy it will be to implement it.  The easier and simpler the battery design, the more likely third parties will try to compete and undercut the OEMs on price.