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New Battery Could Be Made From Abundant Low-Cost Materials

Written by Stephen Vicinanza

MIT engineers, as well as associate researchers from a number of sources, both industrial and academic, have designed a battery from abundant low-cost materials. The end result is low-cost backup storage for renewable energy sources. This new battery’s architecture uses aluminum and sulfur for the two electrodes with molten salt electrolyte in between.

It is no secret that Lithium-ion batteries are expensive. The world is building bigger and bigger installations of wind and solar power systems. This leads to a growing need for economical, large-scale backup systems to provide power at night and during times of less wind.

Researchers at MIT and elsewhere have developed a new type of battery. This new battery, made from aluminum and sulfur as the two electrodes, and a molten salt electrolyte in between, is described in the journal Nature in a paper by MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, with 15 others from MIT, Kentucky, Tennessee, China, and Canada.

The process of building a new battery type was simple, “I wanted to invent something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage and ultimately automotive [uses].” Said Sadoway.

Not only is lithium-ion batteries expensive, but they are also flammable. The electrolyte is hazardous, making them less than ideal for transportation or home uses. Sadoway studied the periodic table and decided on Aluminum first because it is the most abundant metal on Earth. Iron didn’t have the electrochemical properties needed to replace lithium as the dominant electrode.

Sadoway then focused on the non-metal electrode, and sulfur stood out as the cheapest of all the non-metals. Finally, the electrolyte needed to be less flammable than a lithium-ion battery. Several polymers were tested, but the team ended up looking towards salts, molten salts.  There are salts that melt at high-temperature levels, and those that melt at lower temperatures. Once they got down to salts that melt at around body temperature they become a practical electrolyte.

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These three ingredients are cheap, abundant, and safe. Safe is one of the most important aspects of this research, because a new battery, that is cheap, lightweight, and can not burn, is going to be an important part of life as we know it. The future lifestyle of society will have a battery at its core. They must be safe, efficient, plentiful, and cheap. 

One major benefit of the chloro-aluminate salt that was chosen does not create dendrites on the electrodes. Dendrites which form from the use of a battery, are little spikes of metal that grow from one electrode to the other causing a short circuit and hampering efficiency. The molten salt they chose does not have this problem.  Sadoway called the effect “a serendipity.”

For further reading see the article from MIT at Science Daily here

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2022, August 24). A new concept for low-cost batteries: Made from inexpensive, abundant materials, an aluminum-sulfur battery could provide low-cost backup storage for renewable energy sources. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220824120829.htm

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For the past 8 years, I have been writing about embedded technologies, added to my technical, academic, and medical editorial experience, with companies like Elsevier and Cambridge University Press. I tell people to read what I write, not try to pronounce my last name. I am always available for comments and suggestions you can reach me at product-editor@circuitcellar.com and I promise I will take the time to reach back out to you. I live in the North East with my wonderful family.

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New Battery Could Be Made From Abundant Low-Cost Materials

by Stephen Vicinanza time to read: 2 min