Salt power: Watt's next in rechargeable batteries?

Oct 08, 2012 by Marcia Goodrich
Salt power: Watt's next in rechargeable batteries?
Reza Shahbazian-Yassar with students in his laboratory.

Reza Shahbazian-Yassar thinks sodium might be the next big thing in rechargeable batteries.

Now, the gold standard in the industry is the , which can be recharged hundreds of times and works really well. Its only problem is that it is made with lithium, which is not cheap. It could get even more expensive if more powered with lithium ion batteries hit the road and drive up demand.

"Some people think lithium will be the next oil," says Shahbazian-Yassar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering–engineering mechanics at Michigan Technological University.

Sodium may be a good alternative. "After lithium, it's the most attractive element to be used in batteries," Shahbazian-Yassar said. It's also cheap and abundant; seawater is full of it.

It has just one problem: are big, about 70 percent larger in size than lithium atoms. "When the atoms are too big, that's problematic," says Shahbazian-Yassar, because they can cause a battery's electrodes to wear out faster. "Imagine bringing an elephant through the door into my office. It's going to break down the walls."

An image of lithium accumulating on an electrode taken by graduate students in Reza Shahbazian-Yassar's lab. His team will take similar images of sodium using a transmission electron microscope that can peer inside a battery.

Before a long-lasting rechargeable sodium battery can be developed, scientists need to better understand these challenges and develop solutions. With a $417,000 National Science Foundation grant, Shahbazian-Yassar is leading that effort at Michigan Tech.  "We have an opportunity to tackle some of the fundamental issues relating to charging and discharging of batteries right here," he said. "We have a unique tool that lets us observe the inside of a battery."

Using a , Shahbazian-Yassar and his team can peer inside and see how a battery is charging and discharging at the . "We will study these fundamental reactions and find out what materials and electrodes will do a better job hosting the sodium."

batteries would not have to be as good as lithium ion batteries to be competitive, Shahbazian-Yassar notes. They would just need to be good enough to satisfy the consumer. And they could make electric cars more affordable, and thus more attractive. Plus, they could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, particularly if the batteries were charged using renewable energy sources. That would lead to two laudable goals: greater energy independence and less pollution worldwide.

"I hope I can make a contribution," says Yassar.

Explore further: Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Komaba Group reports sodium ion battery progress

Sep 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—Scientists with a common goal, to figure out an alternative to the lithium ion battery, the main power source of choice, are not giving up. The quarrel is not with the lithium ion battery's performance ...

Toward improving the safety of Lithium-ion batteries

Dec 17, 2007

After recalls and fires involving Lithium-ion batteries, battery manufacturers and scientists have launched an intensive effort to improve the safety of these rechargeable power packs found in dozens of consumer electronics ...

Recommended for you

US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

13 hours ago

Environmentalists Wednesday urged the United States to drop plans to haul India to the WTO to open its solar market, saying the action would hurt the fight against climate change.

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

20 hours ago

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

Finalists named in Bloomberg European city contest

Apr 23, 2014

Amsterdam wants to create an online game to get unemployed young people engaged in finding jobs across Europe. Schaerbeek, Belgium, envisions using geothermal mapping to give households personalized rundowns of steps to save ...

Bloomberg invests $5M in solar-powered lamp

Apr 22, 2014

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation has announced a $5 million investment in an artsy-looking solar-powered lamp designed for use in off-grid populations in Africa.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dutchman
1 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012
Oh good, maybe it helps keeping excessive sodium out of our food, now that there is a possible better use for the stuff.
harryhill
1 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2012
$417K grant...hmmmm...I would say anything.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2012
A salt water electrolyte battery? Been done big time for a long time.

A really good, energy dense, compact, long lasting, deep cycle battery - may require some research.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Oct 11, 2012
$417K grant...hmmmm...I would say anything.

I hope you're aware that even if you manage to apply for a 1 billion dollar grant the researchers' salaries do not go up by one cent?

More news stories

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.