Peatland energy: Estonian scientists use peat to make batteries

Peat, abundant in peatlands in northern Europe, could be used to make inexpensive sodium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, according to scientists at an Estonian university.

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

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

“Peat is a very cheap raw material – it really costs nothing,” says Enn Lust, director of the university’s Institute of Chemistry.

The process includes heating the decomposed peat to a high temperature in an oven for 2-3 hours. The university expects the government to fund a small factory in Estonia to test the technology.

Scottish distillers dry malt over peat fires to flavor whiskey, and some northern European countries use the peat to power factories and households, or as a fertilizer.

When peatlands are drained to extract peat, they release trapped carbon dioxide, raising environmental concerns. But Estonian scientists say they use decomposed peat, a waste from traditional mining methods that is usually thrown away.

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

Chinese battery giant CATL in July became the first major automotive battery maker to unveil a sodium-ion battery. “I think companies will try more and more to market the sodium-ion battery, especially after CATL’s announcement,” Bednarski said.

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

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