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Cheap Alternative To Lithium Could Be Used In Next Generation Of Batteries

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Researchers from Purdue University have found a way to produce efficient sodium-ion batteries that are as functional and cheaper than its lithium counterpart.

The Sodium Problem

Batteries that are currently in the market are all made up of lithium that is extremely rare and can only be mined in the mountains of South America. However, as demand increases, the source of lithium can be depleted, causing the battery production around the world to stagnate.

For years, scientists have been making efforts to turn sodium-ion batteries, using salts of sodium that are not only cheap but also abundant, to be as efficient as lithium batteries. However, sodium is extremely delicate; it immediately combusts when it is exposed to water.

Recent studies found a way to prevent sodium-ion batteries not combust from exploding. Scientists, however, are yet to figure out how to control sodium ion from "getting lost" after charging for the first few times. Until now.

Purdue University has announced a groundbreaking discovery that could change the future of batteries. In a study published in the Journal of Power Sources, they revealed a sodium powder version that does not combust and holds a charge efficiently.

"Adding fabricated sodium powder during electrode processing requires only slight modifications to the battery production process," stated Vilas Pol, Purdue University associate professor of chemical engineering. "This is one potential way to progress sodium-ion battery technology to the industry."

The Future Of Batteries

The study explained that the initial issue they found with sodium ions is that they stick to the hard carbon end of the battery called the anode during the initial charging. They need to travel over to the cathode end to be effective. When the ions build up into a structure called a solid electrolyte interface, it can cause the battery to lose sodium ion.

"Normally the solid electrolyte interface is good because it protects carbon particles from a battery's acidic electrolyte, where electricity is conducted," Pol explained. "But too much of the interface consumes the sodium ions that we need for charging the battery."

Researchers from Purdue University said that sodium as the powder does not build up in a way that it would lose sodium ions.

To create sodium powder, the team used ultrasound to melt chunks into a purple liquid that then gets cooled and turned into powder. Dropping the sodium suspension into the anode or cathode of a sodium-ion battery during the fabrication has allowed it to charge and to discharge efficiently and at a higher capacity.

Sodium-ion batteries are expected to be slightly heavier than lithium-ion batteries. The researchers hope that their creation would be used to store large amounts of energy for solar and wind energy farms.

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