Robust, cheap and with high energy-storage capacity- this is the description of the desired Li-ion rechargeable batteries. In some countries, however, in order to build them, industries have to pay very high import costs.
Researchers in Japan think they have found a solution to this. The rapidly growing demand for Lithium, metal found mainly in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and China, has pushed scientists at University of Tokyo to search for alternative means.
Sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries have been chosen as a possible replacement of Li-ion ones, having a key advantage that the manufacturing cost would be much lower. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, their performance is not as up to standards as everyone expects.
This is where the team led by Associate Professor Shinichi Komba comes into play. They aimed to improve Na-ion batteries and make them a strong competitor. The team discovered that sucrose- the main component of sugar can be used as a very effective material for the anode of Na-ion batteries.
They conducted an oxygen-free experiment where sucrose was heated up to 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,700 Fahrenheit). As a result of this process known as pyrolysis, hard carbon powder was formed. When placed inside a Na-ion battery, the storage capacity can increase with up to 20%.
Although still being quite far from achieving the final objective, Komba believes that his team is on the right track to developing a strongly competitive alternative battery in the next 5 years.