New Seawater Battery May Replace Lithium-Ion

A battery that uses seawater has been constructed by engineers at South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST). They are looking for a way to wean us off of lithium-ion technology, and it looks like they might have found a solution to our little lithium problem.

The battery they developed works with seawater and the research team claims that it could soon match a lithium-ion battery for some applications.

Lithium-ion batteries are really cool, but they have some pretty serious drawbacks too. The biggest one from a commercial perspective is the availability of lithium on earth. The thing is, there just isn’t much lithium.

With the rise of personal electronics and electric vehicles the world needs more and better batteries. Lithium-ion batteries perform well, but lithium is rare, the batteries can’t really be recycled and to top it off sometimes they explode in a fiery mess.

The seawater battery is better in every regard, though the team is focusing on large scale applications.

Sodium is one of the most abundant elements on earth, so the raw materials for this battery are easy to find just about anywhere. The chance of fire is much lower, and explosions are also unlikely.

The team that developed this prototype thinks that seawater batteries could be a solution for industrial scale energy storage that renewable energy systems rely on to function within an electrical grid. They also could make smaller versions that would serve in systems for ships, homes and commercial applications.

The seawater battery works much like a lithium-ion battery. The major difference is the substitution of sodium for lithium. The university explains:

“The battery extracts sodium ions from the seawater when it is charged with electrical energy and stores them within the cathode compartment. Upon electrochemical discharge, sodium is released from the anode and reacts with water and oxygen from the seawater cathode to form sodium hydroxide. This process provide energy to power, for instance, an electric vehicle. “

For the moment, seawater batteries trail lithium-ion batteries when it comes to electrical output. But their current program hopes to develop a battery pack next year that will provide enough power for a home. Once that is accomplished, they feel as though the research will progress steadily from there.

If we are going to embrace renewable sources of power, this is exactly the kind of technology that needs to be nurtured. It will be great to watch as this kind of battery develops.

[via treehugger]

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