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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-06-15 13:00:20
  • Article ID: 696185

Sodium- and Potassium-based Batteries Hold Promise for Cheap Energy Storage

  • Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

    Matthew Boebinger, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, and Matthew McDowell, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering, used an electron microscope to observe chemical reactions.

  • Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

    Matthew Boebinger, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, observed video of sodium reacting with an iron sulfide particle.

From electric cars that travel hundreds of miles on a single charge to chainsaws as mighty as gas-powered versions, new products hit the market each year that take advantage of recent advances in battery technology.

But that growth has led to concerns that the world’s supply of lithium, the metal at the heart of many of the new rechargeable batteries, may eventually be depleted.

Now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found new evidence suggesting that batteries based on sodium and potassium hold promise as a potential alternative to lithium-based batteries.

“One of the biggest obstacles for sodium- and potassium-ion batteries has been that they tend to decay and degrade faster and hold less energy than alternatives,” said Matthew McDowell, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering.

“But we’ve found that’s not always the case,” he added.

For the study, which was published June 19 in the journal Joule and was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, the research team looked at how three different ions – lithium, sodium, and potassium – reacted with particles of iron sulfide, also called pyrite and fool’s gold.

As batteries charge and discharge, ions are constantly reacting with and penetrating the particles that make up the battery electrode. This reaction process causes large volume changes in the electrode’s particles, often breaking them up into small pieces. Because sodium and potassium ions are larger than lithium, it’s traditionally been thought that they cause more significant degradation when reacting with particles.

In their experiments, the reactions that occur inside a battery were directly observed inside an electron microscope, with the iron sulfide particles playing the role of a battery electrode. The researchers found that iron sulfide was more stable during reaction with sodium and potassium than with lithium, indicating that such a battery based on sodium or potassium could have a much longer life than expected. 

The difference between how the different ions reacted was stark visually. When exposed to lithium, iron sulfide particles appeared to almost explode under the electron microscope. On the contrary, the iron sulfide expanded like a balloon when exposed to the sodium and potassium.

“We saw a very robust reaction with no fracture – something that suggests that this material and other materials like it could be used in these novel batteries with greater stability over time,” said Matthew Boebinger, a graduate student at Georgia Tech.

The study also casts doubt on the notion that large volume changes that occur during the electrochemical reaction are always a precursor to particle fracture, which causes electrode failure leading to battery degradation.

The researchers suggested that one possible reason for the difference in how the different ions reacted with the iron sulfide is that the lithium was more likely to concentrate its reaction along the particle’s sharp cube-like edges, whereas the reaction with sodium and potassium was more diffuse along all of the surface of the iron sulfide particle. As a result, the iron sulfide particle when reacting with sodium and potassium developed a more oval shape with rounded edges.

While there’s still more work to be done, the new research findings could help scientists design battery systems that use these types of novel materials.

“Lithium batteries are still the most attractive right now because they have the most energy density – you can pack a lot of energy in that space,” McDowell said. “Sodium and potassium batteries at this point don’t have more density, but they are based on elements a thousand times more abundant in the earth’s crust than lithium. So they could be much cheaper in the future, which is important for large scale energy storage – backup power for homes or the energy grid of the future.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. DMR-1652471, DMR-1410936, CMMI-1554393 and ECCS-1542174, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-SC0012704. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.

CITATION: Matthew G. Boebinger, David Yeh, Michael Xu, B. Casey Miles, Baolin Wang, Marc Papakyriakou, John A. Lewis, Neha P. Kondekar, Francisco Javier Quintero Cortes, Sooyeon Hwang, Xiahan Sang, Dong Su, Raymond R. Unocic, Shuman Xia, Ting Zhu, and Matthew T. McDowell, “Avoiding Fracture in a Conversion Battery Material through Reaction with Larger Ions,” (Joule, June 2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joule.2018.05.015

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Theorists Publish Highest-Precision Prediction of Muon Magnetic Anomaly

UPTON, NY--Theoretical physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Brookhaven National Laboratory and their collaborators have just released the most precise prediction of how subatomic particles called muons--heavy cousins of electrons--"wobble" off their path in a powerful magnetic field.

How Gold Nanoparticles Could Improve Solar Energy Storage

Star-shaped gold nanoparticles, coated with a semiconductor, can produce hydrogen from water over four times more efficiently than other methods - opening the door to improved storage of solar energy and other advances that could boost renewable energy use and combat climate change, according to Rutgers University-New Brunswick researchers.

National Ignition Facility Sets New Energy Record

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser system has set a new record, firing 2.15 megajoules (MJ) of energy to its target chamber - a 15 percent improvement over NIF's design specification of 1.8 MJ, and more than 10 percent higher than the previous 1.9 MJ energy record set in March 2012. Increasing NIF's energy limit will expand the parameter space for stockpile stewardship experiments and provide a significant boost to the pursuit of ignition.

Generating Electrical Power From Waste Heat

Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories have developed a tiny silicon-based device that can harness what was previously called waste heat and turn it into DC power.

Extracting Signals of Elusive Particles from Giant Chambers Filled with Liquefied Argon

In two new papers, the MicroBooNE collaboration describes how they use this detector to pick up the telltale signs of neutrinos. The papers include details of the signal processing algorithms that are critical to accurately reconstruct neutrinos' subtle interactions with atoms in the detector.

SLAC's Ultra-High-Speed 'Electron Camera' Catches Molecules at a Crossroads

An extremely fast "electron camera" at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has produced the most detailed atomic movie of the decisive point where molecules hit by light can either stay intact or break apart. The results could lead to a better understanding of how molecules respond to light in processes that are crucial for life, like photosynthesis and vision, or that are potentially harmful, such as DNA damage from ultraviolet light.

Merging Antenna and Electronics Boosts Energy and Spectrum Efficiency

By integrating the design of antenna and electronics, researchers have boosted the energy and spectrum efficiency for a new class of millimeter wave transmitters, allowing improved modulation and reduced generation of waste heat. The result could be longer talk time and higher data rates in millimeter wave wireless communication devices for future 5G applications.

New Experimental Results from the Largest and Most Sophisticated Stellerator

An international team is running tests on the largest and most sophisticated stellerator, the Wendelstein 7-X fusion experiment. This complex machine is housed at the Max-Planck-Institute of Plasma Physics, and researchers are analyzing data from the first experiment campaign that took place in 2016, hoping to understand the science of fusion reactors. In a new report in Physics of Plasma, the scientists recount the first detailed characterization of plasma turbulence at the outer edge of the stellerator.

X-Ray Experiment Confirms Theoretical Model for Making New Materials

Experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have confirmed the predictive power of a new computational approach to materials synthesis. Researchers say that this approach, developed at the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, could streamline the creation of novel materials for solar cells, batteries and other sustainable technologies.

Diesel Doesn't Float This Boat

Marine research could soon be possible without the risk of polluting either the air or the ocean. It's thanks to a new ship design and feasibility study led by Sandia National Laboratories. Despite many advantages, the feasibility of a hydrogen-powered research vessel has never been studied or proven. Until now.


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Seth Davidovits Wins 2018 Marshall N. Rosenbluth Dissertation Award

Article describes dissertation award won by Seth Davidovits.

DOE Launches New Lab Partnering Service

The U.S. Department of Energy officially launched the Lab Partnering Service (LPS), an on-line, single access point platform for investors, innovators, and institutions to identify, locate, and obtain information from DOE's 17 national laboratories.

Department of Energy Announces $75 Million for High Energy Physics Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $75 million in funding for 77 university research awards on a range of topics in high energy physics to advance knowledge of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

Thesis Prize Winner's Calculations Characterize Neutrino Interactions

Alessandro Baroni is helping demystify one of the most mysterious particles. His work is contributing to our understanding of neutrinos, and it has earned him the 2017 Jefferson Science Associates Thesis Prize for work performed on a thesis related to research at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

10 Questions for Steven Cowley, New Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Steven Cowley, a theoretical physicist and international authority on fusion energy, became the seventh Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPon July 1 and will be Princeton professor of astrophysical sciences on September 1.

Ames Laboratory to lead new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals

Ames Laboratory will receive $10.75 million over four yearrs for a new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals as one of the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers.

DOE Awards $100 Million for Energy Frontier Research Centers

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $100 million in funding for 42 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security.

Argonne welcomes <em>The Martian</em> author Andy Weir

Best-selling science fiction author Andy Weir visited Argonne to give a series of standing-room-only talks, inspiring students and scientists alike.

United States and Italy Sign Agreement to Collaborate on Sterile Neutrino Research

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Italian Embassy, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, signed an agreement for collaboration on research with the international Short-Baseline Neutrino (SBN) program hosted at DOE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

UW Professor and Clean Energy Institute Director Daniel Schwartz Wins Highest U.S. Award for STEM Mentors

Daniel Schwartz, University of Washington Professor and Clean Energy Institute Director, received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week.


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Tracking Down Helium-4's Quarks and Gluons

Scientists obtain the first exclusive measurement of deeply virtual Compton scattering of electrons off helium-4, vital to obtaining an unambiguous 3-D view of quarks and gluons within nuclei.

Predicting Magnetic Explosions: From Plasma Current Sheet Disruption to Fast Magnetic Reconnection

Supercomputer simulations and theoretical analysis shed new light on when and how fast reconnection occurs.

Is Nature Exclusively Left Handed? Using Chilled Atoms to Find Out

Elegant techniques of trapping and polarizing atoms open vistas for beta-decay tests of fundamental symmetries, key to understanding the most basic forces and particles constituting our universe.

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Forever Young Catalyst Reduces Diesel Emissions

Atom probe tomography reveals key explanations for stable performance over a cutting-edge diesel-exhaust catalyst's lifetime.

Sense Like a Shark: Saltwater-Submersible Films

A nickelate thin film senses electric field changes analogous to the electroreception sensing organ in sharks, which detects the bioelectric fields of prey.

A Bit of Quantum Logic--What Did the Atom Say to the Quantum Dot?

Let's talk! Scientists demonstrate coherent coupling between a quantum dot and a donor atom in silicon, vital for moving information inside quantum computers.

New Tech Uses Isomeric Beams to Study How and Where the Galaxy Makes One of Its Most Common Elements

A new measurement using a beam of aluminum-26 prepared in a metastable state allows researchers to better understand the creation of the elements in our galaxy.

Simulations of Magnetically Confined Plasmas Reveal a Self-Regulating Stabilizing Mechanism

A mysterious mechanism that prevents instabilities may be similar to the process that maintains the Earth's magnetic field.

Seeing All the Colors of the Plasma Wind

2-D velocity imaging helps fusion researchers understand the role of ion winds (aka flows) in the boundary of tokamak plasmas.


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