Photo (cropped): New applications for supercapacitors could include a new ultra-fast charging EV battery based on sodium-ion chemistry (courtesy of ARPA-E).

New Sodium-Ion Battery Could Charge An Electric Vehicle In Seconds, Not Minutes

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The electric vehicle revolution has barely gotten under way, and already the goalposts for charging times are moving. New research indicates that sodium-ion EV batteries could charge up in seconds, not minutes. That not only races past the best lithium-ion technology on the market today, it also beats gas and diesel fuels at their own game.

Sodium For The Sustainable Electric Vehicle Battery Of The Future

Lithium-ion batteries have been the energy storage technology of choice for electric vehicle stakeholders ever since the early 2000s, but a shift is coming. Sodium-ion battery technology is one new technology to emerge.

In terms of an electric vehicle battery, sodium beats lithium on availability and cost. Performance has been the challenge, with one hurdle being weight. Sodium and lithium are atomic neighbors, but the atomic weight of sodium is 3.3 times that of lithium.

The Swedish battery firm Northvolt has recently hooked up with the leading Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD, indicating that it has solved the problem in terms of mobile applications.

Unless we missed something, automakers here in the US haven’t quite gotten there yet. Instead, stationary energy storage is the initial target. The California firm Natron Energy just fired up its first US factory last week with a focus on energy storage systems to balance loads and handle power interruptions at data centers. Ohio-based Acculon Energy is another US energy storage firm spotting an opportunity in the sodium-ion field.

The Role Of The Supercapacitor

Unlike the market for internal combustion engines, the market for electric vehicle batteries could support any number of variations on battery chemistry to accommodate different combinations of cost, range, and charging times alongside other factors including driver habits, schedules, and access to charging stations.

Nevertheless, the idea of being able to pull up, plug in, and take off again in less than a minute is a tantalizing one.

The main feature behind the new sodium-ion battery research is a supercapacitor. Also called ultracapacitors, supercapacitors are energy storage devices that can charge up in seconds. They can also release their charge quickly.

In terms of modern applications, the first supercapacitors began appearing back in the 1950s and they are in widespread use today. “Supercapacitors do not require a solid dielectric layer between the two electrodes, instead they store energy by accumulating electric charge on porous electrodes filled with an electrolyte solution and separated by an insulating porous membrane,” the US Department of Energy explains.

For electric vehicles specifically, the list of benefits includes a long lifecycle and the ability to function efficiently over a wide range of temperatures. If you caught that thing about discharging quickly, though, that’s a problem. Deployment in electric vehicles is currently limited to secondary tasks where a quick burst of power is useful, such as acceleration and regenerative braking. In those use cases, supercapacitors avoid wear and tear on the main battery.

The Ultra-Super-Fast Charging Sodium-Ion Electric Vehicle Battery Of The Future

For main battery applications, supercapacitors are in need of a soup-to-nuts makeover. “The major drawbacks of supercapacitors are low energy density and a high self-discharge rate,” the Energy Department further explains, referring to the tendency of chemistry-based batteries to lose their charge when not in use for a period of time.

The complications add up when the battery chemistry involves a sodium-ion formula. Nevertheless, a research team at KAIST (the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) has come up with a new energy storage solution that combines the power of a supercapacitor with the cost and supply chain advantages of sodium-ion battery chemistry.

The researchers already anticipate that their new battery will find a use in the electric vehicle field. That may be a long ways off, but the project is off to a promising start. The team’s study was published in March by the journal Energy Storage Materials under the title, “Low-crystallinity conductive multivalence iron sulfide-embedded S-doped anode and high-surface-area O-doped cathode of 3D porous N-rich graphitic carbon frameworks for high-performance sodium-ion hybrid energy storages.

The shorter version is that the team developed a new battery that combines a new, sophisticated anode with a new cathode that accommodates supercapacitor technology. The two electrodes were carefully engineered to smooth over the disparity in their energy storage rates.

“This combination allows the device to achieve both high storage capacities and rapid charge-discharge rates, positioning it as a viable next-generation alternative to lithium-ion batteries,” KAIST explained in a press release dated April 18, in which they also note that sodium is more than 500 times more abundant than lithium.

“This device surpasses the energy density of commercial lithium-ion batteries and exhibits the characteristics of supercapacitors’ power density,” KAIST emphasized. “It is expected to be suitable for rapid charging applications ranging from electric vehicles to smart electronic devices and aerospace technologies.”

Another Road To The Ultra-Extra-Super-Fast Charging Electric Vehicle Of The Future

The KAIST team is not the only one to raise the bar on electric vehicle charging times by deploying supercacitor technology. Here in the US, a research team at TAMU (Texas A&M University) has been working on a new battery that incorporates nitride MXenes. Prounounced “Maxines,” MXenes crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2013, when we took note of their potential to bump EV battery technology up to the next level.

“Like graphene, MXenes possess unique properties that could open up a new era of small, lighter, faster, cheaper and more efficient electronic and energy storage devices, among other things,” we enthused.

Graphene and MXenes are 2D, atomic-level materials. Graphene is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, while Mxenes consist of two layers of material made of metal carbides, nitrides, or carbonitrides.

With an assist from MXenes, the TAMU team is reaching beyond the ambitions of a seconds-long charge for electric vehicle batteries, to achieve a seconds-long charge that can last for days.

“The team’s research underscores the potential of nitride MXenes to serve as a dependable option for energy storage devices, with applications spanning from small electronics and large-scale grid storage to electric vehicles,” TAMU observed in a press release dated April 22.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to TAMU for the latest published paper on the research. We did find an article on the topic authored by lead researcher and TAMU chemical engineering professor Dr. Abdoulaye Djire in 2019, in which his team demonstrated that the 2D material Ti4N3Tx MXene (Ti for titanium, N3 for nitride, and Tx referring to group surfaces) behaves as both a metal and a semiconductor.

In addition to the potential for significant impact on electric vehicle charging times and other energy storage applicaitons, Dr. Djire’s extensive work on MXenes is also informing the decarbonization of ammonia (NH3) production, as described in an article published by the journal Nature in 2022.

For some new and unusual supercapacitor news, we’ll also be keeping an eye on IARPA, the high-risk, high-reward research branch of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence. If you didn’t know we had one of those, join the club. In March, IARPA let word drop that it is interested in hearing from researchers in the field of bio-based supercapacitors, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Photo (cropped): New applications for supercapacitors could include a new ultra-fast charging EV battery based on sodium-ion chemistry (courtesy of ARPA-E).


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3326 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey