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Seaweed separator for sodium battery cell

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty


Researchers at the University of Bristol have used nanomaterials made from seaweed to create a strong separator for a sodium ion battery.

Sodium-metal batteries (SMBs) are promising high-energy and low-cost energy storage systems for the next-generation of large-scale applications bur suffer from uncontrolled dendrite growth, which penetrate the battery’s separator and result in short-circuiting.

The bifunctional electrospun nanofibrous separator is built from materials derived from seaweed that self align to prevent the dendrite growth. This has boosted the cycle time at high current densities to over 1000 hours at 1 and 3 mA cm−2, and over 700 hours at 5 mA cm−2 using additive-free carbonate electrolytes.

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“The aim of a separator is to separate the functioning parts of a battery (the plus and the minus ends) and allow free transport of the charge. We have shown that seaweed-based materials can make the separator very strong and prevent it being punctured by metal structures made from sodium. It also allows for greater storage capacity and efficiency, increasing the lifetime of the batteries – something which is key to powering devices such as mobile phones for much longer,” said Jing Wang, first author and PhD student in the Bristol Composites Institute (BCI).

This builds on previous work at the University of Bristol and in collaboration with Imperial College and University College London.

Dr Amaka Onyianta, also from the BCI, who created the cellulose nanomaterials and co-authored the research, said: “I was delighted to see that these nanomaterials are able to strengthen the separator materials and enhance our capability to move towards sodium-based batteries. This means we wouldn’t have to rely on scarce materials such as lithium, which is often mined unethically and uses a great deal of natural resources, such as water, to extract it.”

“This work really demonstrates that greener forms of energy storage are possible, without being destructive to the environment in their production,” said Professor Steve Eichhorn who led the research at the Bristol Composites Institute.

The next challenge is to upscale production of these materials and to supplant current lithium-based technology.

 

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