Sugar Turns into Anode Material for Sodium Ion Batteries
Lithium is a metal that is popularly used in the electronics industry. But while lithium is not that rare in comparison with other metals, it is still relatively limited in supply -which is one of the reasons why lithium-ion batteries are quite expensive.
Sodium-ion batteries are one of the possible “direct” alternatives that we have that can answer the supply problem, as sodium is a lot more abundant than lithium. In fact, one research group even has more in mind that just taking sodium’s supply advantage. This is because they are planning to tackle the economic problem on both sides, with their battery using a common and easily obtainable sugar constituent as the anode.
That major constituent is none other sucrose. More specifically however, they want the carbon content inside regular table sugar. The researchers at the Tokyo University of Science came up with the idea of using carbon as a replacement anode material. They chose carbon because sodium is not limited or restrained, at least to the number of compatible anode materials, compared to lithium.
Of course, they don’t just put table sugar and sodium together, as the process requires pyrolizing sugar to properly use it as the anode material. To pryolize sugar, they first need to heat it in very high temperatures, at least 1,000-1,500 degree Celsius. Usually, the dirtier version of hard carbon is obtained when it is heated openly. But if heated within an inert atmosphere without oxygen, the end result would be a blacker, purer type of hard carbon.
Performance tests have shown that their prototype batteries using the pure black carbon anode can hold a maximum energy storage capacity of 20% more than the dirtier version. But even though the improvement over other carbon anodes is quite impressive, the energy density of this “sodium-sucrose” battery is still a bit far from reaching “lithium-ion” like levels.
Still, even if it only reaches a value that is somewhere near lithium-ion battery capacities, the expected lower price value would still probably be the deciding factor that would determine its value as an alternative. With a more abundant material used in place of lithium, and with an easier and cheaper way of obtaining hard carbon, these sodium-sucrose batteries can bring down the general price point of a “lithium-ion-like” battery. Along with other gadgets, we could also probably expect electric cars to enjoy a significant drop in prices if it eventually becomes generally available.
This may not be the actual inspiration for the development of the battery, but it is important to know that Japan doesn’t really have any natural source of lithium. Because of this, Japan always has to rely on imports to meet the nation’s industrial need for lithium. This increases the potential importance of perfecting their sodium-sucrose battery as soon as possible.
Lithium-ion batteries continue to be very high in demand, as the electronic industry pushes for farther boundaries within the mobile realm. It is still a very important energy source for everyday gadgets and electric vehicles as well. However, we might have to end our total dependence with it one way or another, and the sodium-sucrose battery is just one of the many alternatives that we have for our future.
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