Lithium-ion batteries have long been heralded as the green future of energy. Costs remain very high, however. Now, a new, low-cost alternative might be within reach, raising hopes for a faster pace of change in the push for greener energy consumption around the world.
Solar and wind power are solutions that are seeing exponential growth globally. This new option offers a realistic backup for when the sun and/or wind can’t be relied upon.
MIT researchers have developed an alternative that is made entirely from abundant and inexpensive materials. Discussed in the journal Nature, the new battery uses aluminum and sulfur as its two electrode materials, with a molten salt electrolyte in between.
MIT Professor Donald Sadoway said “I wanted to invent something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage, and ultimately for automotive.”
In addition to the cost benefits, the battery benefits from the fact that it contains no volatile, flammable organic liquids. These elements have sometimes led to dangerous fires in cars and other applications of lithium-ion batteries.
The result is a safe solution, made from readily-available materials and low in cost – roughly about one-sixth per cell to that of comparable lithium-ion cells.
Sadoway claims that the new battery would be ideal for installations of roughly the size needed to power a single home or small-to-medium business. It produces on the order of a few tens of kilowatt-hours of storage capacity.
Other uses, such as for electric car charging stations, have also been mooted as potential suitors for the battery. This is thanks, in part, to its rapid charging capabilities.
The new technology is already the basis for a new spinoff company called Avanti, which has licensed the patents to the system. Sadoway, co-founder of the company, said that “The first order of business for the company is to demonstrate that it works at scale.” This gives a hint as to the intentions of the business as they seek to make the battery commercially-available.
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