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Technology

Japanese researchers make battery with sugar anode

Today, lithium-ion batteries are commonly used resources. But lithium is actually a rare element mostly confined to specific regions like China and Australia. As a result, batteries derived from it become expensive and tend to be scarce.

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In Japan, a team of researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have found a “sweet” way to potentially overcome these setbacks – by simply using sugar.

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Hard carbon obtained by pyrolyzing sucrose, the main component of sugar, could be an effective anode material for sodium-ion batteries, reported the online Science magazine Phys.org.

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When sugar is heated under an extreme temperature between 1,000 to 15,000 degrees Celsius inside an oxygen-free oven, it will turn into hard black carbon powder.

To date, the group led by Associate Professor Shinichi Komaba has achieved a storage capacity of 300 ampere-hours. That is 20 percent higher than conventional hard carbon.

"What's more, our results show that battery capacity can be increased simply by using carbon made from sugar as the anode. So high-performance batteries like expensive lithium batteries, which are an important type of rechargeable battery, may be achievable,” Prof. Komaba told Phys.org.

According to him, it would take five years to achieve a “practical version,” but his team is certain that it is possible.

With further improvements in the technology and performance, the batteries have the potential to replace lithium-ion batteries with lower-priced materials that at the same time are abundant, he said.

“The supply of sodium is unlimited. Also, sodium ion batteries can be made using iron, aluminum, and sodium, rather than cobalt or copper as before," he added.

Sodium-ion batteries are among the types of power compact systems still in development stage, but are seen to be a cheaper and more durable way to store energy than the lithium-ion batteries.

In addition, they could also be practical options for storing power from renewable sources such as wind and solar, said Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

When successfully developed, these next-generation storage systems can aid to countries that are heavily dependent on imports of lithium-ion batteries like Japan, providing an alternative with steady supply. – C. Dominguez



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