In a bid to address the environmental concerns surrounding lithium batteries, Yarra Valley in Australia is pioneering a shift towards sodium-based battery technology. Unlike traditional lithium-ion batteries, which are notorious for their difficult recycling process and extensive water and energy requirements for production, sodium batteries offer a promising alternative that is both cheaper and more eco-friendly.

The global demand for batteries is skyrocketing as industries seek to transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy storage solutions. However, the drawbacks of lithium batteries, coupled with their environmental impact, have spurred a search for greener alternatives.

James Quinn, CEO of Faradion, a UK-based battery technology company, highlights sodium as a sustainable option for batteries. “It’s widely available around the world, meaning it’s cheaper to source, and less water-intensive to extract,” says Quinn. “That is a significant advantage over lithium.”

Faradion’s sodium-ion batteries have already found application in storing renewable electricity for energy companies worldwide, marking a step towards reducing reliance on lithium. This shift is particularly timely given that lithium was classified as a “critical raw material” by the European Union in 2020.

The transition to sodium batteries offers not only environmental benefits but also economic advantages. Maria Forsyth, Chair of Electromaterials and Corrosion Sciences at Deakin University, notes that the transition from lithium to sodium battery production is relatively low cost. “The same factories that produce lithium-ion batteries can manufacture sodium batteries, enabling quick scalability,” says Forsyth.

However, sodium batteries come with their own set of challenges. While they offer safety advantages over lithium batteries, such as lower flammability risk, they currently have lower energy density and fewer charging cycles. This makes them less suitable for applications like electric vehicles, where range and longevity are critical factors.

Alternative battery technologies, such as solid-state and lithium-sulphur batteries, also show promise in addressing the limitations of lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state batteries, in particular, offer higher energy density and reduced flammability risk, although they may require more time to scale up compared to sodium batteries.

Despite the hurdles, the emergence of diverse battery technologies signals a shift towards a more sustainable and resilient energy future. As Aqsa Nazir, a postdoctoral research scholar, emphasises, “We don’t need to replace lithium in all batteries; what is needed is a diversification of battery technology.”

The journey towards sustainable batteries is multifaceted, requiring collaboration between researchers, industry players, and policymakers. By exploring alternatives like sodium batteries, regions like Yarra Valley are leading the charge towards a greener and more sustainable energy landscape.