France is leading the charge in new-generation battery developments, with the development of a battery using sodium ions. The RS2E team at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) has developed a sodium-ion powered battery in the industry standard ‘18650’, the format used in appliances from laptops to LED flashlights and electric cars.

The work is the development of a knowledge economy in new energy technologies – particularly new-generation batteries – within France. In 2012, French battery ‘guru’ Jean-Marie Tarascon, the solid-state chemist at the CNRS and professor at the Collège de France who heads the RS2E network, decided to make the most of France’s know-how in sodium batteries. The RS2E team (Réseau sur le stockage électrochimique de l’énergie) brings together knowledge from a number of laboratories: the CNRS, the largest fundamental science agency in Europe; France’s LITEN, the Laboratory of Innovation for New Energy Technologies and Nanomaterials, which develops future technologies within the renewable energy and energy efficiency and storage sector; and the CEA, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. These knowledge centres have joined forces with 15 major industrial players including Renault, Saft, and Alstom to create the RS2E network, with a focus on both the research and development of new-generation batteries.

Its goal is to bring inexpensive sodium-ion batteries that can be used across a wide variety of applications to market in Europe as soon as possible. The commercial possibilities are immense – the global market for batteries should reach 80 billion dollars in 2020, twice that of today.

Tarascon said: “When the electric vehicle market began to develop, we feared a surge in lithium prices, and sodium thus entered the race again.” Lithium has until now had the advantage of being lighter than sodium and providing more energy, but the element is rarer and more expensive. Sodium is accessible and abundant, making up more than 2.6 percent of the Earth’s crust and being found in seawater in the form of sodium chloride.

The initial performance of the rechargeable prototype is positive in terms of both energy density at 90 watt-hours/kilogram, while its lifespan exceeds 2,000 cycles. Loïc Simonin, a collaborating researcher at LITEN, said: “Its energy density is comparable to certain lithium-ion batteries, such as the lithium-ion iron/phosphate battery. The 18650 format enables us to provide proof of concept, and compare the performance of our batteries with those of similar format that are already available on the market. However, other formats will need to be designed to meet new requirements.”

Testament to France’s knowledge economy in next-generation batteries, the International Battery Association is holding its IBA 2016 Conference at La Cité Nantes Events Center in March, attracting about 200 world-class researchers, technologists and industrial participants to a meeting which blends fundamental research with practical applications in the field of advanced battery materials and systems.

(via CNRS and gizmag)

Featured image: The new ‘18650’ battery uses the transfer of sodium ions rather than lithium ions to store and release electricity (Credit: Vincent GUILLY/CEA)