MIT researchers unveil better approach to rechargeable batteries that could lead to inexpensive power storage

Battery technology is continuously being improved every day, but most of the innovation that you end up seeing pretty much daily are related to mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. However, those aren’t the only things that require batteries. Sometimes, batteries are used in places where the overall cost of materials matters much more than just the weight or the size. In this regard, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found a much better approach to rechargeable batteries that could eventually lead to cheaper battery storage. And the best part is that it’s based on technology that has been around for quite a long time now. So there could be plenty of options to improve upon the current innovation.

According to a report on the official MIT News website, the team of researchers that came up with the innovative new battery technology solution was led by Donald Sadoway, an MIT professor, in cooperation with Huayi Yin and Brice Chung, two Ph.D. students. The results of their research were reported in the journal Nature Energy.

What the research team did was rework the specifics of an old battery technology that was first detailed around five decades ago, in 1968. According to the report, the battery here is based on electrodes that are made of sodium and nickel chloride. This was the composition of the basic battery chemistry that the research team based their work on, only they used a new type of metal mesh membrane, which is said to be good enough for so-called grid-scale installations. Precisely the type that’s needed for intermittent power sources such as wind and solar energy plants, making them capable of delivering reliable baseload electricity levels.

Back when the basic battery chemistry mentioned above was first discovered, it never went past the conceptual phase simply because of its impracticality. The reason for this is that the thin membrane which was part of its basic design used a rather weak and brittle material: ceramic. As such, any and all batteries made based on it would be damaged too easily in real-life conditions. It proved somewhat useful in certain industrial applications, but for general use, there was just no way that it was going to be considered for anything widespread.

That’s where Sadoway and his team decided to focus their research on. After conducting their experiments, they found that the thin membrane in the battery chemistry could be replaced by something else: a specially coated metal mesh, which was not only usable in a real-world industrial-scale system, but also much more flexible and strong enough to withstand daily stress. It resulted in a complete turn-around for the old battery technology in the eyes of the researchers. “I consider this a breakthrough,” Sadoway said.

According to the researchers, an ordinary steel mesh coated with titanium nitride was the alternative membrane that they were looking for. Not only could it function like the early ceramic membranes, but it also didn’t suffer from weakness and brittleness. Thus, the researchers see the potential for inexpensive and durable new materials that could be used for certain large-scale batteries.

The battery technology detailed in their report could one day end up being utilized in large, fixed installations. As mentioned earlier, it’s just the right choice for large-scale, fixed installations such as power plants. The choice of materials makes it an inexpensive solution, and the newly-found durability means it can be deployed with less maintenance than other solutions would require. All in all, it could be a major improvement to currently available battery storage solutions for large-scale installations.

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