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posted by mrpg on Wednesday October 11, @05:45AM   Printer-friendly

As a warming world moves from fossil fuels toward renewable solar and wind energy, industrial forecasts predict an insatiable need for battery farms to store power and provide electricity when the sky is dark and the air is still. Against that backdrop, Stanford researchers have developed a sodium-based battery that can store the same amount of energy as a state-of-the-art lithium ion, at substantially lower cost.

Chemical engineer Zhenan Bao and her faculty collaborators, materials scientists Yi Cui and William Chueh, aren't the first researchers to design a sodium ion battery. But they believe the approach they describe in an Oct. 9 Nature Energy paper has the price and performance characteristics to create a sodium ion battery costing less than 80 percent of a lithium ion battery with the same storage capacity.

"Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance," Bao said. "But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium."

With materials constituting about one-quarter of a battery's price, the cost of lithium – about $15,000 a ton to mine and refine – looms large. That's why the Stanford team is basing its battery on widely available sodium-based electrode material that costs just $150 a ton.

Sodium batteries taste better, too.


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by c0lo on Wednesday October 11, @06:01AM (23 children)

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @06:01AM (#580312)

    ...to create a sodium ion battery costing less than 80 percent of a lithium ion battery with the same storage capacity.
    ...
    With materials constituting about one-quarter of a battery's price, the cost of lithium – about $15,000 a ton to mine and refine – looms large. That's why the Stanford team is basing its battery on widely available sodium-based electrode material that costs just $150 a ton.

    So:

    1. enough competition (many manufacturers) in the battery market - 32 big enough to be mentioned in EV batteries alone [wikipedia.org], countless others for consumer batteries.
    2. materials is only 25% of the battery cost

    why the hell are the batteries still so expensive? Where's the 'free market fairy' when you need her?

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by krishnoid on Wednesday October 11, @06:06AM (1 child)

      by krishnoid (1156) on Wednesday October 11, @06:06AM (#580314)

      Where's the 'free market fairy' when you need her?

      "Hold on, someone just poked me on Instagram." thumb thumb thumb tap tap tap ...

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @08:50AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @08:50AM (#580351)

        Sounds like the asshole fairy.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @06:48AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @06:48AM (#580321)

      1. There is no free market in batteries. Batteries are heavily a heavily regulated industry. Many licenses and permits are required to manufacture batteries. There are also enormous patent barriers. Unless you are a billionaire like Elon, good luck accumulating enough lawyers and legislators to start a battery factory.

    • (Score: 2) by Whoever on Wednesday October 11, @06:52AM (3 children)

      by Whoever (4524) on Wednesday October 11, @06:52AM (#580322)

      There isn't much Lithium in a Lithium-ion battery. Goldman-Sachs claims that there is about $1000-worth in Tesla's 70kWh battery (63Kg), but I believe their figure is out by a factor of 10, and it should only be about $100. Another reason you should not believe these banks when apparently simple calculations are beyond them.

      Tesla has stated that Lithium makes up 2% of the volume in Tesla's batteries.

      Cobalt is more of a concern.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Whoever on Wednesday October 11, @07:01AM (2 children)

        by Whoever (4524) on Wednesday October 11, @07:01AM (#580324)

        Reading my source again, it may be that the author of the article misunderstood Goldman-Sachs.

        The article [electrek.co] claims 63Kg of Lithium Carbonate are used and that Lithium Carbonate costs ~$15k/ton. This would put the cost of the Lithium Carbonate in a 70kWh battery at about $1000.

        So it looks like the author of the article that Phoenix666 quotes has confused Lithium with Lithium carbonate.

        • (Score: 1) by whibla on Friday October 13, @11:48AM (1 child)

          by whibla (2352) on Friday October 13, @11:48AM (#581698)
          I honestly have no idea where the author of that article is getting Lithium Carbonate from. No, scratch that, I do, and it's because he's somehow confused the formula LiCoO2 for LiCO3. There is no Lithium Carbonate in the cathode of Lithium Ion batteries. There is (for some of them) Lithium Cobalt Oxide in the anode.
          • (Score: 1) by whibla on Friday October 13, @12:01PM

            by whibla (2352) on Friday October 13, @12:01PM (#581703)
            On a second reading, and reflection, I may have been a little hasty in judging the author. I suspect the Lithium Carbonate he mentions might be the raw (lithium salt) material that is left after the salar brine evaporation process. My bad!
    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Wednesday October 11, @08:41AM (5 children)

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @08:41AM (#580346) Journal

      There's lots of silicon in the world. Indeed, the deserts are full of it. So why are computer chips not essentially free?

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @09:36AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @09:36AM (#580364)

        What you see in a desert is impure silicon dioxide. Isolating and refining the silicon is necessary. Semiconductor grade monocrystalline silicon costs $102 to $127 per kg FOB China [alibaba.com].

        The lithium mentioned in the article is in a refined form that's ready to use.

      • (Score: 1, Redundant) by c0lo on Wednesday October 11, @10:23AM (2 children)

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @10:23AM (#580370)

        Indeed, the deserts are full of it.

        The desert are full of silicon dioxide

        So why are computer chips not essentially free?

        Indeed, why? (grin)

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @12:36PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @12:36PM (#580427)

          Search for a Pentium iV or Core2Duo chip on eBay. There's your "essentially free" chips.

          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Azuma Hazuki on Wednesday October 11, @04:14PM

            by Azuma Hazuki (5086) on Wednesday October 11, @04:14PM (#580545)

            And even better, if you get the Netburst chip, you also get an essentially free space heater! :D

            I've always thought of the P4 as a kind of resistive heating element that just so happened to have an x86 ISA implemented in it...

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @08:39PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @08:39PM (#580786)

        Because Moore's Law can be used in different ways. Either it can be used to drive down cost of the individual chip by packing more dies on a single wafer, or it can be used to maintain price by packing more transistors onto a single chip and thus maintain the die count on a wafer.

        Guess what Intel has been doing all this time...

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday October 11, @11:04AM (6 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @11:04AM (#580388) Journal
      According to this article, materials make up 60% of the cost of lithium-ion batteries and "overhead" is another ~30%. Labor and "profit" are around 5% each. The cathode materials (which includes lithium) makes up the largest portion of the materials cost (it appears to be about 20% of overall costs on the graph).
      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday October 11, @11:39AM (5 children)

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @11:39AM (#580398)

        According to this article,

        Typo in the linky? 'Cause TFA doesn't have any graph or detailed percentages.

        • (Score: 2, Informative) by khallow on Thursday October 12, @02:16PM (4 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 12, @02:16PM (#581135) Journal
          Sorry, thought I linked it. Here. [qnovo.com]
          • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Thursday October 12, @03:12PM (3 children)

            by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 12, @03:12PM (#581162)

            Thanks.

            Something is wrong thought. A $200/kWh for consumer batteries is too low. I looked over the weekend and could not find anything lower than AUD1000/kWh. Granted, retail price.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday October 12, @04:39PM (2 children)

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 12, @04:39PM (#581208) Journal
              Glancing around, it appears to depend on the role of the battery. Automotive batteries tend to be more expensive (though I see estimates for $273 [thinkprogress.org] and $227 [electrek.co] per kwh in 2016). Other battery types were already well below $200 [teslamotorsclub.com] per kwh (for laptop batteries).
    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @04:22PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @04:22PM (#580549)

      why the hell are the batteries still so expensive? Where's the 'free market fairy' when you need her?

      There are three possibilities:

      1) There is illegal collusion and price fixing, among 32+ major battery manufacturers, all of which would have an incentive to turn State's Evidence to receive a monetary reward, huge positive press coverage, and imposing major penalties on their competitors.
      2) All 32+ major battery manufacturers are not ruthlessly competitive and trying to squeeze the maximum profit out of the economy (e.g. dropping prices by 5% to double their market share).
      3) The manufacturing, distribution, maintenance, and marketing process is far more complicated and expensive than it appears from the outside.

      For my money, I'm guessing it is number 3. As a side hint, how much do you think is the cost of the raw cotton and linen which comprises that $50 shirt you are wearing?

      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday October 11, @08:36PM

        by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @08:36PM (#580781)

        As a side hint, how much do you think is the cost of the raw cotton and linen which comprises that $50 shirt you are wearing?

        There were only 2 years in which I wore $50 shirts, until I discovered what shops in Australia stock $20 shirts. To be had at $12 at EoFYS.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, @03:02AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, @03:02AM (#580941)

      Because fairies do not exists? Especially free market variety?

      Or perhaps, they are only good for inserting electrodes into female genitals, but for nothing much else?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Boys [wikipedia.org]
      https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/09/life-under-pinochet-they-were-taking-turns-electrocute-us-one-after-other/ [amnesty.org]

  • (Score: 2) by arslan on Wednesday October 11, @06:28AM (4 children)

    by arslan (3462) on Wednesday October 11, @06:28AM (#580317)

    They haven't look at the volumetric density yet so hard to compare if it is a viable replacement just on cost. If it takes 10 times more space for the same energy output, no matter how cheap it is still unpractical in a lot of use-case.

    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Wednesday October 11, @08:45AM (2 children)

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @08:45AM (#580348) Journal

      The use-case mentioned in the summary, storing energy from solar plants, probably isn't that sensitive on volume. Sure, volume does matter, if only because it determined how much property you need to build your storage on. But as long as the battery price reduction is more than the extra property cost (and you'll likely not put the storage onto the most expensive land available!) it still is a net win.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @12:45PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @12:45PM (#580432)

        We tolerate propane tanks on our properties and in the past the entire basement would be filled with coal. We also tolerate a hot water storage tank in the house.

        If someone built a cheap, reliable, long-lived battery of the same kind of dimensions: 1m x 2m or thereabouts then it could just sit in a cupboard or in the basement. Then every 20 years you refurbish it or buy a new one. This seems a very feasible future for distributed solar when the price is right. Which may be soon.

        This video about disruptive solar power was posted recently - a good watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b3ttqYDwF0 [youtube.com]

      • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 11, @08:07PM

        by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday October 11, @08:07PM (#580759) Homepage
        Lithium's so good in modern contexts (laptops/tablets/cars) because batteries made therefrom are light, and volume is a secondary issue. Sodium, doesn't quite have that benefit so much.

        But let's flip things around. For some energy stores, mass and volume are a good thing - thermal ballast.
        --
        I was worried about my command. I was the scientist of the Holy Ghost.
    • (Score: 1) by whibla on Friday October 13, @11:53AM

      by whibla (2352) on Friday October 13, @11:53AM (#581701)
      The use case for these is grid storage, for when the sun ain't shining and the wind ain't blowing. Size is practically irrelevant.
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by KritonK on Wednesday October 11, @07:18AM (5 children)

    by KritonK (465) on Wednesday October 11, @07:18AM (#580327)

    In 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Nautilus was powered by sodium batteries. I wonder if this constitutes prior art.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by maxwell demon on Wednesday October 11, @08:47AM (4 children)

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @08:47AM (#580349) Journal

      Unless the book describes in detail how those sodium batteries worked, no it isn't prior art.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 3, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @09:31AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @09:31AM (#580363)

        In a SoylentNews comment, KritonK made a joke. I wonder if maxwell demon will ever develop enough of a sense of humor to realize it.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @10:25AM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @10:25AM (#580373)

        But 20000 Leagues Under the Sea is art and is prior to this invention.

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday October 11, @07:04PM (1 child)

          by DannyB (5839) on Wednesday October 11, @07:04PM (#580701)

          But it is not "art" in the technical subject matter of this invention.

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday October 11, @09:40PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday October 11, @09:40PM (#580807)

            Under the current insane USPTO, Jules Verne owns a patent on any sodium batteries for all eternity.
            But he still has to pay royalties to Volta.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by maxwell demon on Wednesday October 11, @08:50AM

    by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @08:50AM (#580350) Journal

    From the dept.-line-was-too-salty-so-I-threw-it-away dept?

    --
    The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fraxinus-tree on Wednesday October 11, @10:46AM (3 children)

    by fraxinus-tree (5590) on Wednesday October 11, @10:46AM (#580377)

    Sodium-ion batteries lurk in research for more than 20y. Twice more for sodium-sulfur. They both still have usability issues. And yes, i know that sodium-ion are harder task than lithium-ion.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @06:04PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, @06:04PM (#580641)

      If Trump plays his cards wrong, we can skip sodium and go straight to plutonium as a power source in every home.

      • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Wednesday October 11, @07:25PM

        by Osamabobama (5842) on Wednesday October 11, @07:25PM (#580726)

        Unless you are on the west coast, you may have to settle for strontium and its neighbors that are carried over on the wind, with power delivered via beta decay. But maybe I'm underestimating Trump's cards...

        --
        Appended to the end of comments you post. Max: 120 chars.
      • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday October 11, @09:44PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday October 11, @09:44PM (#580808)

        My house will be powered by small hydro and dynamos, mounted on the outside of Trump's wall to collect energy from the people being thrown off the top, and their dripping blood, sweat and tears. That's the kind of renewables his people will get behind!

  • (Score: 1) by AssCork on Wednesday October 11, @05:59PM

    by AssCork (6255) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 11, @05:59PM (#580635) Journal

    There was a company that came out with a cotton and carbon battery that was supposed to be the "next big thing" (here [theatlantic.com]).
    Honestly, I think our patent system (and heavy regulation) might be to blame for why no revolutionary battery technology has occurred in the past 30 years, despite the massive spike in devices that require batteries.
    Where's our 30-year nuclear button-batteries? Fusion cells?
    Hell, at this point I'll take a cell phone battery that can make it through 8 hours of heavy use.

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