Estonian scientists use peat to make batteries

TERTU, Estonia, October 11 — Peat, plentiful in swamps in northern Europe, could be used to cheaply make sodium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles, scientists at an Estonian university say.

Sodium-ion batteries, which do not contain the relatively expensive lithium, cobalt or nickel, are one of the new technologies that battery makers are looking at as they explore alternatives to the dominant lithium-ion models.

Scientists at the University of Tartu in Estonia say they have found a way to use peat in sodium-ion batteries, thereby reducing the overall cost, although the technology is still in its infancy.

“Peat is a very cheap raw material—it really doesn’t cost anything,” says Ann Lust, head of the Institute of Chemistry at the university.

The process involves heating decomposed peat at high temperature in a furnace for 2-3 hours. The university expects the government to finance a small-scale factory in Estonia to try out the technology.

Professor Ann Lust from the University of Tartu and student Patrick Tepper work on a carbon-based battery using peat in Tartu, Estonia.
Professor Ann Lust from the University of Tartu and student Patrick Tepper work on a carbon-based battery using peat in Tartu, Estonia.
Reuters/Janis Licence

Distillers in Scotland dry the malt over peat fires to flavor whiskey and some northern European countries use the peat to fuel factories and homes, or as a fertilizer.

As swamps are drained into mine peat, they release trapped carbon dioxide, raising environmental concerns. But Estonian scientists say they are using decomposed peat, a waste product of traditional extraction methods that is usually discarded.

Sodium-ion batteries using peat will need to prove they are commercially viable and can be scaled up, Lukasz Bednarski, a market analyst and author of a book on the battery, told Reuters.

Scientists from the University of Tartu make a carbon-based battery using peat in Tartu, Estonia.  September 30, 2021.  Scientists from the University of Tartu in Tartu, Estonia make a carbon-based battery using peat.  September 30, 2021.
Scientists from the University of Tartu make a carbon-based battery using peat in Tartu, Estonia. September 30, 2021.
Reuters/Janis Licence

In July China’s CATL became the first major automotive battery manufacturer to unveil sodium-ion batteries.

“I think companies will try to commercialize sodium-ion batteries, especially after the CATL announcement,” Bednarsky said.

Less powerful sodium-ion batteries are likely to be used with lithium-ion technology to reduce the overall cost of the battery pack, he said.

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