Renewable energy is fantastic, but what happens when the sun doesn’t shine or when the wind doesn’t blow? You could use lithium-ion batteries, but they are pricey and have a flammable electrolyte, making them unsuitable for shipping due to the risk of fire.
However, a remedy may be on the way. According to a statement released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Wednesday, a professor named Donald Sadoway, along with 15 others at MIT and in China, Canada, Kentucky, and Tennessee, has published a new paper demonstrating an aluminum-sulfur battery that may just replace lithium-ion batteries and be the key to storing renewable energy.
Much superior to lithium-ion batteries
“I intended to design something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage and, eventually, for automotive [uses],” Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor Emeritus of Materials Chemistry, noted.
To accomplish this, he searched the periodic table for a low-cost, plentiful on Earth metal that could safely and reliably replace lithium. He discovered that aluminum was the second-most prevalent metal in the market — and the most abundant metal on the planet. “So I figured, hey, let’s just make that a bookend.” “It’ll be aluminum,” he continued.
He then opted to couple it with the least expensive of all nonmetals: sulfur. Finally, for the electrolyte, he chose a variety of molten salts with low melting points — close to water’s boiling point, as compared to roughly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for many salts.
He explained that “once you get down to near body temperature, it becomes viable” to create batteries that don’t require extra insulation or anticorrosion techniques.
The combination of these three aspects was extremely successful. “The ingredients are inexpensive, and the device is safe – it cannot burn,” Sadoway continued.
There is no need for an external heat source.
Even better, because heat is naturally generated by the charging and discharging of the battery, the new battery does not require an external heat source to maintain its operational temperature.
“As you charge, heat is generated, which protects the salt from freezing.” “Then, when you discharge, you generate heat,” Sadoway continued.
For example, in a typical load-leveling arrangement at a solar producing facility, “you’d store electricity when the sun is shining, and then you’d draw electricity after dark, and you’d do this every day.” And that charge-idle-discharge-idle cycle generates enough heat to keep the item warm.”
Sadoway and one of his students have already established Avanti, a new spinoff company that has licensed the patents for the revolutionary battery technology. “The company’s first order of business is to demonstrate that it works at scale,” Sadoway stated.
If it does, it has the potential to change the way we think about energy storage and make renewables genuinely economical.
That is something to get thrilled about!