Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and elsewhere have developed a new kind of battery, made up of aluminium and sulphur and is a low-cost alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and elsewhere have developed a new kind of battery, made entirely from abundant and inexpensive materials.
According to an MIT journal called Nature, the new battery architecture, uses aluminium and sulphur as its two electrode materials, with a molten salt electrolyte in between. This is an alternative to the expensive lithium-ion batteries, and wind and solar power systems — something that will be available at all times without costing too much.
This new and less-expensive battery is the brainchild of Donald Sadoway who is the John F. Elliott Professor Emeritus of Materials Chemistry at MIT and 15 others with him. “I wanted to invent something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage, and ultimately for automotive ,” he told MIT News.
Lithium-ion batteries are not the best for transportation because they are expensive and their electrolyte is combustible. So, Sadoway said that he started studying the periodic table, looking for cheap, Earth-abundant metals that might be able to replace lithium. According to him, iron, which now holds the majority of commercial use, lacks the proper electrochemical characteristics for an effective battery. Aluminium, on the other hand, is the second-most plentiful metal on the market and the most abundant metal overall.
The next step was choosing the other electrode to go with the aluminium and the electrolyte that would go between them to transport ions back and forth during charging and discharging. Sulphur was chosen as the second electrode component since it is the least expensive non-metal. For the electrolyte, Sadoway and team decided to look at a variety of molten salts that have relatively low melting points — close to the boiling point of water — as opposed to volatile, flammable organic liquids.
Aluminium, which is identical to the foil from the grocery store, sulphur, which is frequently a waste product from activities like petroleum refining, and generally accessible salts are the three elements they ultimately settled on.
According to Sadoway, this new battery formulation would be ideal for installations of about the size needed to power a single home or small to medium business, producing on the order of a few tens of kilowatt-hours of storage capacity. The smaller scale of the aluminium-sulphur batteries would also make them practical for electric vehicle charging stations. “For larger installations, up to utility-scale of tens to hundreds of megawatt hours, other technologies might be more effective,” he added.
The research team included members from Peking University, Yunnan University and the Wuhan University of Technology, in China; the University of Louisville, in Kentucky; the University of Waterloo, in Canada; Argonne National Laboratory, in Illinois; and MIT. The work was supported by the MIT Energy Initiative, the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, and ENN Group.
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