#28 Shan: Environmental impacts of novel battery technologies

Is the future of batteries heading towards sustainability, and how can their environmental performance be improved?

Shan Zhang (张姗) is a PhD researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) focusing on the environmental impacts of novel battery technologies.

Department and Group: Department of Energy and Technology

Dissertation Title (as for now :D):

Environmental impacts of future battery chemistries

Sodium vs. Lithium-Ion Batteries

As demands for battery technology rise and currently used materials become scarce, new technologies need to be found and assessed. Shan evaluates various novel battery technologies and compares their environmental impacts against those of currently used ones. In this context, Shan compares the environmental impact of Sodium-Ion batteries with that of Lithium-Ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used today. However, lithium is a scarce and expensive resource, primarily mined in limited places (currently in South America and Australia). On the contrary, sodium is abundant in the Earth’s crust and can be extracted practically anywhere. For that reason, sodium is more cost-effective than lithium. Additionally, sodium batteries are safer than lithium batteries, as they are easier to extinguish in case of a fire. However, the energy density of Na-batteries is lower than that of Li-batteries, necessitating more Na-batteries to supply the same energy.


The results indicate a promising potential for sodium-ion batteries to attain environmental performance comparable to or exceeding that of Li-ion batteries, when optimal battery performance is achieved.

Organic Batteries

Organic batteries contain no metals but instead use conductive redox polymers (a specific kind of plastic). This type of battery is still in its early development stage. As these batteries are bendable and flexible, their applications will likely be in wearable and portable devices, fueling sensors to track someone’s heartbeat, pulse, or other bodily functions.


The production of this battery is currently at laboratory scale, using an inefficient synthesis route that results in high material consumption and relatively poor environmental performance. The environmental impacts of such battery will be reduced with the optimisation of the production route. Furthermore, the innovation of this battery lies in introducing new services and user experiences due to its flexible and bendable characteristics, rather than aiming to replace existing technologies. Additionally, the end-of-life treatment is relatively easy for this product due to the absence of metals in the battery technology, as the battery can be recycled or incinerated using the same waste treatment route as the product it powers.

Life Cycle Assessment: A tool to assess and quantify the environmental impacts of a product or service. Environmental impacts are expressed in environmental impact categories like climate impacts, metal resource depletion, or ozone layer depletion.

YouTube video on how batteries work: video

Struggle: Figuring out how to deal with missing data and finding ways to close data gaps in a sensible manner.

Joy: Reading about the development of new technologies, defining research questions, and attempting to answer them. Research, in general, provides joy for Shan.

Life cycle assessment of an all-organic battery: Hotspots and opportunities for improvement

Prospective life cycle assessment of a flexible all-organic battery

Future climate impacts of sodium-ion batteries

If you like to get in touch with Shan check LinkedIn and ResearchGate.

Shan’s funding:

First half of the PhD: Swedish Energy Agency (Project number 48212-1)
Rest of the PhD: Department of Energy and Technology, SLU.

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