In recent years, lithium has become the darling of the alternative power sector as it is the mineral of choice used for the creation of rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) and appliances used in both the home and workplace.
However, recent supply chain issues and the surging demand for industrial-grade lithium have jacked up its price, causing manufacturers and investors to scramble for alternative sources of the material or to seek other ways by which to generate clean energy for industrial and commercial use.
A team at the University of Texas believes that they may have a solution to the issue. Led by Yan Yao, Cullen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, these researchers have developed a glassy homogeneous electrolyte that can be used instead of lithium for reversible sodium plating and stripping. The material can also do this at a much greater current density than the present standard.
The team was able to synthesize a unique form of oxysulfide glass electrolytes which may potentially serve as the core for an all-solid sodium battery. These alternatives to the lithium-ion batteries currently may be produced at a considerably lower cost, and have the additional virtue of being easily manufactured as well as both mechanical and chemical stability. The electrolytes are stable at room temperature thanks to a high-energy ball milling process.
According to research associate Ye Zhang, this oxysulfide glass electrolyte has a distinct microstructure. When applied to sodium metal, this electrolyte forms a self-passivating interface necessary for stripping down sodium as well as reversible plating.
That said, the development is hailed as an achievement as previous attempts to achieve stable plating and sodium metal stripping using sulfide electrolytes all failed.
Team leader Yao believes that the group’s study has turned this notion on its head by enabling the creation of high-performance sodium-sulfur batteries at ambient temperature, as well as establishing the highest possible critical current density among all sodium-ion conducting sulfide solid electrolytes.
The results of the University of Texas were recently published in the trade journal Nature Communications and are being hailed by the clean energy sector as a potential solution to the ongoing lithium shortage and consequent price hikes.