What do peaty bogs in northern Europe have in connection with electric vehicles?
Well – scientists in Estonia say they’ve found a way to use peat to make sodium-ion batteries cheaply for use in EVs.
Sodium-ion batteries are one of the new technologies that battery makers are looking at as they seek alternatives to the dominant lithium-ion model.
Scientists at Estonia's Tartu University say using peat reduces the overall cost of the battery, because they don't contain relatively costly lithium, cobalt or nickel.
And the peat they’re using is very cheap, as it is not used for agriculture or fuel, but does yield a good-quality carbon powder for batteries.
That's according to Enn Lust, head of the university's Institute of Chemistry.
SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY AT TARTU UNIVERSITY, ENN LUST, SAYING:
"In Estonia, we have a lot of peat. And in principle we are not using this peat, what can be used for agriculture and other heating purposes, but we are using mainly the peat, what is not used usually in Estonia. It is a well-decomposed peat, and we are preparing through two synthesis steps very good carbon powder what can be used in sodium-ion batteries as well as supercapacitors."
How does it work?
The process includes heating decomposed peat to a high temperature in a furnace for 2-3 hours.
That carbon is used to make components in the batteries.
With an increasing move worldwide to renewable energy and electric vehicles, alternatives to lithium batteries like this could be important.
Global demand for lithium last year was about 320,000 tonnes and is expected to hit 1 million tonnes by 2025 and 3 million tonnes by the end of the decade.
LUST: "We need some very cheap devices to store huge quantities of electricity. And the only possibility is batteries, including lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries. But the lithium-ion batteries are very expensive because the price of lithium is 30, or even 50 times more expensive than sodium."
The technology is still in its infancy and sodium-ion batteries using peat still need to prove they are commercially viable and can be scaled up.
But the university expects the government to fund a small-scale factory in Estonia to try out the technology.