Scientists have found another way to reduce our reliance on lithium.
With the advent of the electric vehicle, the world will face some unique challenges. If everyone switches to EVs, there may be increased strain on the electrical grid. There's also the issue of recharging times and the problems associated with a relatively limited range, but scientists have recently found a way to recharge EV batteries in just 10 minutes, while new insights into aerodynamics are helping to boost range. But there's still a big issue. Lithium isn't getting any cheaper or any more abundant.
But what if we don't need lithium? A recent paper suggested that crustaceans could be a solution, and now the ocean has offered another potential answer to the lithium problem: seaweed.
Sodium-metal batteries are being explored as an alternative to lithium, as they offer high energy density and low cost, but they have their flaws. Among them is uncontrolled dendrite growth, which can penetrate the battery's separator, ultimately resulting in a short circuit. But now a research team led by Bristol University has found that nanomaterials made from seaweed could be used as a more robust battery separator. The team's findings were published in Advanced Materials and say that fibers containing these nanomaterials derived from seaweed not only stop the sodium electrodes' crystals from penetrating the separator but also improve the batteries' performance.
"The aim of a separator is to separate the functioning parts of a battery and allow free transport of the charge," said Jing Wang, first author and Ph.D. student at the Bristol Composites Institute. "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."
As the leader of the research project, Professor Steve Eichhorn commented that this kind of work shows that "greener forms of energy storage are possible, without being destructive to the environment in their production."
While we're still a long way from a seaweed-based separator finding its way into a production EV like a Hyundai Ioniq 5, this is a great step in working to ensure that future EVs are made more sustainably, and that can only be a good thing.