Aussie researchers develop new critical material for safer batteries

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Researchers from Deakin University and the University of Queensland have developed a new non-flammable electrolyte material for use in sodium batteries.

Traditional lithium and sodium batteries typically contain flammable electrolytes. Led by Dr Xiaoen Wang and Professor Maria Forsyth from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, the team has developed a solid polymer electrolyte material that can replace the flammable liquid solvents currently used in sodium batteries.

Dr Wang said this “breakthrough” paves the way for new critical material for safer batteries.

“Most industries that develop sodium batteries generally use carbon-based electrode and liquid electrolyte, which has low capacity and also can fuel a fire if the battery overheats,” Dr Wang said.

“We are taking a different approach, using reactive sodium metal as an anode to increase battery capacity and in the process are developing safer electrolytes to ensure the safety of sodium batteries.”

Dr Cheng Zhang and Professor Andrew K. Whittaker from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland developed a key component in the electrolyte.

This is the first time this class of polymer, which is known as a fluorine-containing polymer and was initially utilized for biological applications, has been used in solid-state sodium batteries.

Wang claims that one of the key advantages of adopting sodium as a feedstock for batteries instead of lithium is its low production cost.

“As lithium could become a rare commodity, the price of lithium batteries is high, while on the other hand, sodium resources are more abundant,” Dr Wang said.

“Our polymer will support the use of sodium batteries, which are low cost when compared to lithium batteries.”

Current sodium batteries have the disadvantage of having a lower energy density and a shorter lifespan than lithium batteries. But when combined with the new polymer electrolytes, they provide close to 1000 cycles, which is similar to the current state-of-the-art lithium batteries.

The team believes further research would open up opportunities for use in stationary energy storage such as solar or even in electric cars.

According to Deakin’s statement, small-scale testing of the batteries has been successful, with upscaling and prototyping coming soon.

“To continue and extend Deakin’s extensive research into sodium and lithium batteries, Deakin is currently establishing a new $9.5 million facility at the Melbourne Burwood campus, due for completion in August this year,” reads the statement.

“The expansion project, which includes a $5.2 million contribution from the Victorian Government via the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF), involves upgrading the current Battery Technology Research and Innovation Hub (BatTRI-Hub) facility to include a testing lab and pilot production line to research and manufacture advanced lithium and sodium batteries.”

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