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Sodium-sulphur battery offers faster decarbonisation

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University of Sydney researchers and partners have developed a new, low-cost battery which has four times the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries and is far cheaper to produce will cut the cost of transitioning to a decarbonised economy.

Led by Dr Shenlong Zhao from the University’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the battery has been made using sodium-sulphur – a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water – bringing battery costs down.

Although sodium-sulphur (Na-S) batteries have existed for more than half a century, they have been an inferior alternative and their widespread use has been limited by low energy capacity and short life cycles.

Using a simple pyrolysis process and carbon-based electrodes to improve the reactivity of sulphur and the reversibility of reactions between sulphur and sodium, the researchers’ battery has shaken off its formerly sluggish reputation, exhibiting super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature.

The researchers say the Na-S battery is also a more energy dense and less toxic alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which, while used extensively in electronic devices and for energy storage, are expensive to manufacture and recycle.

Lead researcher Dr Zhao said: “Our sodium battery has the potential to dramatically reduce costs while providing four times as much storage capacity.

“This is a significant breakthrough for renewable energy development which, although it reduces costs in the long term, has had several financial barriers to entry.”

Dr Zhao’s Na-S battery has been designed to provide a high-performing solution for large renewable energy storage systems, such as electrical grids, while significantly reducing operational costs.

Dr Zhao said when the sun wasn’t shining and the breeze wasn’t blowing, we need high-quality storage solutions that don’t cost the Earth and are easily accessible on a local or regional level.

“We hope that by providing a technology that reduces costs we can sooner reach a clean energy horizon.

“It probably goes without saying but the faster we can decarbonise – the better chances we have of capping warming.

“Storage solutions that are manufactured using plentiful resources like sodium – which can be processed from sea water – also have the potential to guarantee greater energy security more broadly and allow more countries to join the shift towards decarbonisation.”

Lab-scale batteries (cion batteries) have been successfully fabricated and tested in the University of Sydney’s chemical engineering facility.

The researchers now plan to improve and commercialise the recently fabricated Ah-level pouch cells.

Their work has been published in the journal Advanced Materials and involved contributions from researchers at Chongqing University, University of Adelaide, University of Wollongong, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and the University of Science and Technology China.

The research was funded by The Australian Research Council, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities and the Ministry of Science and Technology China.

Image: University of Sydney

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