GreenTech: Not Enough Lithium Salt? What About Salt Batteries?

Sometimes, solving problems means we make a mess before we clean it up… we all know this concept. You finally go to straighten up the desk in the downstairs office, next thing you know, you’ve pulled out all the furniture, ripped up the carpet, and have a napkin full of sketches for a new entertainment center. That’s kind of what we’re about to describe, and it has to do with an issue arising from the solution of electric vehicles.

See, EV adoption is on the rise. We’re even seeing entire regions banning new gas vehicle sales… and that’s fantastic, we’re making progress. Unfortunately, because of this, we’ve found ourselves discussing the possibility of lithium shortages. In fact, to hit a fleet of 100% EV American-owned cars (assuming they’re using lithium batteries), it would take an actual miracle. We mean that . . . because the world doesn’t currently produce enough lithium. Lithium IPOs like one of my favorites are getting mobbed by hungry investors. We were there early. I love it.

And that means the lithium gap isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a perspective-altering thing, which can be profitable. In this case, an oldish technology is getting a revamp and a new chance to shine, and it’s just in time, because we may be inadvertently causing some sort of lithium shortage. We need additional options for batteries. We’re glad to report, mother earth has once again offered her bounty. This time in the form of salt, which some say could ease our lithium troubles.

To be clear, barring some unforeseen innovation, salt batteries will likely work in tandem with lithium batteries. After all, variety is the spice of life. The main thing that makes sodium attractive for battery technologies is that it’s abundant, and it can even be extracted from water. Historically, salt-based batteries have had a lower energy density than lithium batteries, as well as weaker power output. That’s changing…

Just recently, researchers created a type of salt battery with four times the capacity of lithium. It’s being called a “Significant breakthrough”, with speculation that “ultra-cheap” salt batteries could end up being a primary powerhouse of our everyday gadgets. Since this baby is packing four times the storage capacity of lithium batteries, maybe that’s not an unreasonable speculation.

The battery uses a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water called sodium-sulphur. The battery doesn’t cost a lot, and it’s much kinder to earth than current options. These are significant pluses. According to lead researcher of the project at the University of Sydney, Dr Shenlong Zhao, this could be the key we’ve needed to unlock more abundant, sustainable salt batteries at scale.

The American Edge

Another research team has been busy in the salt battery department as well, a research team from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). They’ve developed a way to extend the longevity of the sodium-ion battery, a category in which this type of salt battery has done poorly in the past. The findings were published in the journal Nature Energy… we think it’s electric when the home team pulls out goodies that give us an edge. They certainly have this time, they’ve made some adjustments to the ingredients that make up these batteries, and it worked like a charm.

Post-alteration, performance issues that have previously plagued salt batteries are prevented before they happen. This tickles us, we like to see companies tackling core issues, so problems have less opportunity to develop in the first place. As the old saying goes, something about an ounce of prevention… this recipe could further help propel the adoption of salt batteries to store solar energy, and power EVs and gadgets.

One US startup has recently made headlines with a new saltwater flow battery, a company based in the US called Salgenx. According to them, they’ve done away with a membrane that typically goes into this type of flow battery, and this means levelized cost of storage level gains. This scalable saltwater flow battery is ideal for everything from oil well pumps to greenhouse lighting and solar projects… really, anything big, and especially anything green.

Salgenx offers their solution in a large range of configurations, asserts the technology has a life expectancy of 25 years, and a roundtrip efficiency of 91% at 10 mA/square centimeter. As an alternative to lithium, vanadium, and bromine, the company develops the technology, and sells licenses to third-party manufacturers for commercialization. The units can be deployed as standalone, or with solar or wind.

We think, with promising news comping more frequently from space, now may be the ideal time to take a closer look at salt batteries. Some around the world are already on top of it… by some, we mean China. According to analysts, they are attempting to position themselves to be leaders of the pack when it comes to replacing lithium with salt batteries. We don’t know about you, but we’ve been feeling extra competitive lately. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the green tech space.