MRI Scanning Used to Bring Welcome Improvements to Sodium-Ion Batteries

May 06, 2020 by Luke James

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to pinpoint interactions with sodium-ion batteries.

According to the researchers, their work demonstrates an effective way of supporting the development of the next generation of high-performance, rechargeable batteries that will be cost-effective and reach the market sooner. 

The team’s research, which was published in Nature Communications, describes their MRI technique and how it has been employed to detect the movement and deposition of sodium metal ions within a sodium-ion battery. 


Why Sodium-Ion Batteries Matter

The development of new battery technologies is a constantly growing field fuelled by the demands of the world—industry, society, and the environment are all crying out for ones that are better than what’s already available. 

Sodium-ion batteries are a promising technology due to their relatively low cost and how sustainable they are, properties that have led to an increasing level of interest from researchers in the development of new sodium-ion batteries.


Benefits of Sodium-Ion

Sodium-ion batteries are also able to provide high levels of energy density comparable to their lithium-ion cousins, a particularly useful property for short-distance transportation and stationary storage.

While great in theory, sodium-ion batteries must overcome many challenges unique to them, as well as those shared with lithium-ion ones such as dendrite formation. Some of these unique challenges include developing a suitable anode material—graphite cannot be used because it has little capacity to store sodium—and the identification of optimized electrolytes.

Therefore, a prominent area of current research is the development of sodium-ion battery anodes from high-capacity, low cost, and renewable sources such as non-graphitic carbons. 


A smartphone charging.

Sodium batteries are proposed as a promising candidate to replace lithium-ion batteries. 



Taking a Look Inside the Battery

The research team, led by Dr. Melanie Britton of Birmingham University’s School of Chemistry, has developed their MRI technique along with research from Nottingham University. It uses MRI to monitor how sodium performs under reaction conditions.

In a statement, Dr. Britton said: “Because the battery is a sealed cell, when it goes wrong it can be hard to see what the fault is. Taking the battery apart introduces internal changes that make it hard to see what the original flaw was or where it occurred." However, by using their MRI technique, her team is able to see what is actually going on inside the battery while it is operational. This provides an unprecedented insight into how sodium behaves. 

“This technique gives us information into the change within the battery components during operation of a sodium-ion battery, which are [sic] currently not available to us through other techniques,” Dr. Britton said. “This will enable us to identify methods for detecting failure mechanisms as they happen, giving us insights into how to manufacture longer life and higher-performing batteries.”


Better Diagnostics and More Reliable Electronics

By being able to physically see or otherwise detect failure mechanisms in batteries, such as those that plague lithium-ion batteries, designers and engineers may finally be able to start coming up with solutions for problems like overheating capacity fade, and electrolyte decomposition that limits their utility.

This would be a boon for the development of electronics that last longer and exhibit better performance where common problems can be ironed out entirely or anticipated and prevented well ahead of time.