Battery technology: A pile of wood
July 9, 2013 Editor 0
ON A list of cutting-edge materials for high-tech applications, you might not expect to see wood near the top. But an experiment by Teng Li and Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland may soon put it there. For Dr Li and Dr Hu, writing in Nano Letters, have just described how wood might be used to make one class of batteries cheaper by permitting the lithium now employed in them to be replaced with sodium.As any high-school chemist knows, lithium and sodium are chemically similar. Sodium ions (sodium atoms with an electron missing, which makes them positively charged) are, however, five times the size of lithium ions. That matters because a battery works by shuttling ions between its anode and its cathode. The bigger the ion, the more damage this shuttling causes—and the shorter, in consequence, is the battery’s life. Hitherto, that has ruled sodium out as a plausible ingredient of batteries. But engineers would still like to devise a commercially viable sodium battery, because sodium is much more abundant than lithium.Dr Li and Dr Hu wondered if the problem of electrode damage might be ameliorated by using a more pliant material for the frames on which the electrodes are suspended. These frames, which also transmit current to and from the electrodes, are normally made of metal, and are therefore rigid. But the two researchers reckoned that…
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Categories: The Economist
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