Researchers develop alternative to lithium-ion batteries

Swiss researchers have shown that sodium and magnesium can be used in rechargeable batteries, and could one day replace lithium-ion. Drawbacks of lithium include limited availability and safety issues.

Lithium-ion batteries have numerous drawbacks, explained the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) in a statement. Among them is the limited availability of the raw material lithium, as well as its safety issues – in particular in association with the use of a flammable liquid compound. An example of this problem is the recurrence of exploding mobile phones.

The SNF is now sponsoring a new research project in which scientists from the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the University of Geneva and the Polish Henryk Niewodniczański Institute of Nuclear Physics are researching alternative materials for rechargeable batteries.

They have already demonstrated the potential of sodium and magnesium for developing new clean and solid technologies, and have produced experimental battery components based on these two materials.

The research work firstly looked at feasibility. Although it could take a long time before a prototype is developed, according to the researchers, the technology has great potential. For example, as one of the two components of table salt, sodium is readily available and is cheap.

“Availability is our key argument,” Léo Duchêne of Empa said with respect to sodium. “However, it stores less energy than the equivalent mass of lithium and thus could prove to be a good solution if the size of the battery isn’t a factor for its application.”

There are also huge reserves of magnesium, which is light and can store almost twice as much energy in the same volume as lithium-ion.

 

Image credit: SNF

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