Charged up: revolutionizing rechargeable sodium-ion batteries with 'doped' carbon anodes

January 25, 2021

As the world becomes aware of the imminent environmental crisis, scientists have begun a search for sustainable energy sources. Rechargeable batteries like lithium-ion batteries are seeing a popularity surge, concurrent with production of "greener" technologies such as electric propulsion ships (which are being developed to meet the environmental regulations by the International Maritime Organization) and other electric vehicles. But, lithium is rare and difficult to distribute, putting its sustainability in doubt while also risking sharp increases in cost. Researchers have thus turned to "sodium-ion batteries" (SIBs), which are electrochemically similar to lithium-ion batteries and offer advantages like higher abundance of sodium and cheaper production. However, currently, the standard anode material in SIBs is graphite, which is thermodynamically unstable with sodium ions and leads to lower "reversible capacity" (a measure of its storage) and poor performance.

To this end, researchers at Korea Maritime and Ocean University, Korea, set out to find a suitable non-graphite anode material for SIBs. Dr Jun Kang, the lead scientist, says, "Because SIBs have low performance--only 1/10th the capacity of a lithium-ion battery--it is crucial to find an efficient anode that retains graphite's low cost and stability."

Now, in their latest Journal of Power Sources, the scientists reported the following strategies to overcome the limitations of carbon-based anode materials for SIBs: (1) Employing a hierarchical porous structure capable of promoting rapid Na+ transport from the bulk zone of the electrolyte to the interface of the active material; (2) retaining large specific surface areas where Na+ migrates to the interface, which can be easily accessed in the active material; (3) retaining surface defects and pore structures that enable co-intercalation from the surface to the interior; (4) retaining nanostructures in Na+ inserted into the active material from defects and pores that can have short diffusion paths; and (5) increasing the number of active sites due to extrinsic defects that result from these elements through hetero-element doping. These strategies led to the electrochemical performance of the battery being significantly improved, even surpassing that of current lithium-ion batteries!

In two of their previous studies, they successfully tested this method using phosphorus and sulfur, which were featured on the cover pages of
and , respectively.

Dr Kang is optimistic about the various potential applications of their technology, such as in electric propulsion ships and other vehicles, drones, and even high-performance CPUs. "These five factors afford good capacity retention, reversible capacity, ultrahigh cycling stability, high initial coulombic efficiency (80%), and remarkable rate capability. This means they can be used for a long time even with intense battery use," he explains.

Considering the advantages of sodium over lithium, these findings certainly have important implications for the engineering of sustainable, inexpensive, high-performance batteries and can take us a step closer to the realization of an energy-efficient future.

Authors: Dae-Yeong Kim (1), Oi Lun Li (2), and Jun Kang (3)

Titles of original papers:
    (A) Maximizing the rate capability of carbon-based anode materials for sodium-ion batteries

    (B) Novel synthesis of highly phosphorus-doped carbon as an ultrahigh-rate anode for sodium ion batteries

    (C) Novel Approach Through the Harmonized Sulfur in Disordered Carbon Structure for High-Efficiency Sodium-Ion Exchange

    (A) Journal of Power Sources

    (B) Carbon

    (C) ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces

    (A) 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2020.228973

    (B) 10.1016/j.carbon.2020.07.021

    (C) 10.1021/acsami.0c12677

    (1) Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8550, Japan

    (2) School of Materials Science and Engineering, Pusan National University, Busan, 46241, Republic of Korea

    (3) Division of Marine Engineering, Korea Maritime and Ocean University, 727 Taejong-ro, Yeongdo-gu, Busan, 49112, Republic of Korea

About National Korea Maritime & Ocean University

South Korea's most prestigious university for maritime studies, transportation science and engineering, the National Korea Maritime & Ocean University is located on an island in Busan. The university was established in 1945 and since then has merged with other universities to currently being the only post-secondary institution that specializes in maritime sciences and engineering. It has four colleges that offer both undergraduate and graduate courses. Website:

About the author

Dr Jun Kang is currently an Associate Professor at the Division of Marine Engineering, Department of the Korea Maritime and Ocean University. He received his PhD from Nagoya University in 2013. He then joined SK Innovation R&D Center as a senior researcher and group leader for developing various nanomaterials. His research group is focused on the development of nanomaterials for rechargeable battery technologies, such as lithium-ion, sodium-ion, metal-air, and rechargeable seawater batteries. He has published more than 25 peer-reviewed SCI journal papers in the field of nanomaterials, as the lead author.

National Korea Maritime and Ocean University

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