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December 3, 2018

Batteries of the future made with salt

UCSD materials scientist aims to clear hurdles to development of sodium-based rechargeable batteries

Running out of "juice," finding a place to charge up, borrowing a charger, waiting for the charge--it's a familiar ritual for cell phone owners, but materials scientist Shirley Meng of the University of California, San Diego, wants us to raise our expectations for the future.

She envisions cheaper, faster, more powerful batteries, but these batteries would be made with sodium, not lithium. Sodium and other elements that make a sodium batteries work are more abundant than the lithium and cobalt used in typical rechargeable batteries. But, few advances have been made with sodium battery technology and there's no infrastructure in place to help scientists make great strides, at least not yet.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Meng and her team, including doctoral graduate student Hayley Hirsh, are tackling those challenges to help set the stage for sodium battery technology that is cost effective for utilities, as well as consumers. The Ceramics Program within the Division of Materials Research at NSF supports research, such as Meng's, that is addressing several outstanding issues, including safety, storage capacity and retention.

"The use of batteries is ubiquitous in many applications, yet they have not reached their full potential. Rechargeable sodium-ion batteries may be the key to large-scale energy storage systems," says Lynnette D. Madsen, Ceramics Program director. "By taking a systematic approach that uses a suite of powerful analytical tools paired with first principles computational modeling, it will be possible for Professor Meng's team to identify the fundamental mechanisms in new ceramic materials for energy storage and conversion."

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1608968, Interfacial Science and Defect Engineering of Functional Oxides for Sodium-ion Storage and Transport.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.