Dietitians and nutritionists today often shiver to hear the word “salt.” But while health-conscious consumers are working hard to eliminate this heart-unhealthy mineral from their diets, scientists have been diligently looking for more productive uses for one of the planet’s most plentiful elements.
Some promising new research is being done on the possibility of using sodium chloride, or plain old table salt, to make batteries. Today, if you were to pop open the back of your cell phone, tablet, or the noisy toy that your toddler loves, you would find a lithium-ion battery inside. Most people consider these batteries cheap and disposable, but in reality, lithium is a precious metal that is becoming harder and harder to mine from Earth’s rapidly depleting stores.
Salt, on the other hand, is virtually limitless in supply. Salt flats (where lithium is also mined, interestingly) are overflowing with it, and our oceans are full of it. Its abundance gives scientists plenty of leeway in experimenting with how to make it work – which developers in France have recently come closer than ever to accomplishing.
Salt Could Change the Way We Power Everything
The implications of the creation of commercially available sodium-ion batteries are enormous, some experts believe. If we are able to successfully make the switch to salt-based batteries, the average consumer might not notice anything different other than the fact that their AAs are much cheaper than they used to be. However, sodium batteries could potentially be used for a broad range of applications, from storing extra energy produced by windmills to making far more products battery operable, and therefore mobile.
Let’s not forget about the battery problems faced by electronic vehicle manufacturers – sodium batteries would make electronic vehicles much more affordable for the average consumer, and enable us to finally cut our carbon footprint in the transportation sector by a huge amount. In much the same way, sodium batteries could make solar energy a more viable option for many, since the cost of the batteries is currently one of the biggest deterrents for consumers who want to go solar but simply can’t afford it.
So What’s the Hold-Up?
Every year, $60 million worth of precious metal from electronic devices – a significant portion of which is lithium – is dumped into our landfills. Lithium mining can contaminate the water in areas where it is mined, and requires a great deal of water to process after mining. In addition, the nickel and cobalt that are also used in lithium-ion batteries come with their own negative environmental impacts. So why aren’t we using salt-based batteries already?
Sodium-ion batteries as they exist today – namely, within the walls of a few dedicated laboratories – are not yet as efficient as lithium batteries. They do not hold as strong a charge, or for as long, as lithium. They could be used to store excess energy produced by power plants, but they simply lack the efficiency that is needed to power precise mobile devices. Scientists are fairly confident, however, that a few more short years of technological advances should overcome these problems.
Until then, remember to recycle your used lithium-ion batteries, and keep your eyes peeled for the salt-based batteries that could become the future of green mobile technology.