In one of my recent IBM news feeds there was a story that announced IBM has found a way to make batteries from seawater. IBM is keeping quiet about how its new battery is made, only saying that it is made up of “three new and different proprietary materials, which have never before been recorded as being combined in a battery” – interesting.
According to the missive, the three components are all from in seawater. An interesting announcement. If such batteries can, finally, be practically manufactured, it would revolutionize battery technology in a number of segments; portable electronics being one of them. In essence, all of the negative aspects, (heavy and flammable metals) could be eliminated and, all of a sudden, batteries become environment- and human-friendly.
It is interesting to note that IBM says it is a “battery breakthrough” and not a new type of battery. The fact is that salt- or sodium-based batteries are not new. So, claiming a breakthrough in batteries from the sea is most likely a new twist on sodium-ion (Na-ion)-based batteries (also written as Na-on).
How do I know this? Well, in a previous life, for five years, I was a battery and power engineer working for Matsushita’s (Panasonic) Industrial battery division out of Anaheim, CA.
I have a high level of confidence that this new development might be a breakthrough in Na-ion technology. That has been a topic of accelerated research lately, in view of the dangers inherent to Li-ion (also written as Li-on) technology.
Much of what IBM is saying is that this battery is just short of a miracle. They claim it “can be optimized to surpass the capabilities of Li-ion batteries in a number of individual categories including lower costs, faster charging time, higher power and energy density, strong energy efficiency and low flammability.” In other words, it is all that Li-on is, and safer, cheaper, has better energy density and better performance – cool! However, if we take a page from 5G, we all know how the hype game plays.
However, let us take a look at the latest state of Na-ion. There have been some strong advances in this technology. Overall it has been demonstrated that Na-ion batteries, which use layered transition-metal oxides and polyanions – the sodium versions of the compounds used in Li-ion battery electrodes – do promise lithium-like performance at a much lower cost.
“Wow,” you say. But hold on there, podner… While this has been demonstrated, the long and short of the downside is that such layered metal oxides have a limited lifespan. That translates into short recharge cycles – not good and there has been little improvement over the years. As well, unlike Li-ion, Na-ion designs have the challenge of finding a high-capacity anode. While Na is a neighbor to Li on the periodic chart, unlike Li, graphite, used in Li-on for anodes, does not work for Na.
There are other challenges as well – the same ones that faced Li years ago. They include finding a innovative electrode materials and next-generation electrolyte materials – the same challenges as before, really.
This latest promising news on the Na front comes from the Nagoya Institute of Technology (NITech) in Japan. It has come up with a compound called Na2V307, which, out of 4300 compounds tested, proved to be similar in performance to Li-ion, except… Na2V3O7 underwent deterioration in the final charging stages – sigh!
From what I have been able to discern, and a conversation or two with old contemporaries, existing sodium-based battery technology (Na-S, for example), is still used for particular applications. However, Na-ion is still, largely, in the development and experimental stages.
So, I wonder what IBM’s breakthrough development is. IBM is pretty tight-lipped about it. Even a contact or two I have there says they are not at liberty to discuss this, quite yet.
Going back to the IBM teaser, the questions are: Have they developed a high-capacity anode from materials found in the ocean? Have they overcome the short cycle issue? Or, have they come up with a compound, either from some previous research or from another 4,300 tests that have solved the charging issue? Because all of these still need resolving.
I go on record saying this is not a new technology. Rather I suspect IBM may have smoothed one, or more, of the speed bumps that face Na-ion. They do, certainly, have the brain trust to do that.
Now for all my followers; my warmest wishes to you for a prosperous, health and happy 2020….