Researchers are in a race to find the ultimate energy storage solution, considering the rise of renewable energy generation and electric vehicle (EV) sales around the world. Some scientists are trying to improve the lithium-based battery chemistry with alternative and innovative solutions, while others are hoping that they will come up with a way to use different –i.e., cheaper and more readily available–chemical elements in batteries.
Aluminum, sodium, and potassium are some of those chemical elements that are much more abundant than lithium. In theory, these could be used in batteries for energy storage.
However, research has shown that aluminum, sodium, and potassium are challenging to work within batteries because they lack the suitable materials for the battery electrodes.
That is, until now.
New research led by Professor Guoxiu Wang from the University of Technology Sydney proposes a novel method to strain engineer a 2D graphene nanomaterial for making a new type of cathode. Strain engineering refers to the process of changing the properties of a material by changing its mechanical or structural characteristics.
The new research, which was published in Nature Communications, says that the new approach could be extended to beyond-lithium-ion chemistry in high energy storage applications, according to its authors.
The strain engineering of 2D nanomaterials could help developers of batteries other than those based on the lithium-ion chemistry by making aluminum, potassium, or sodium the main element in batteries.
“The strategy of strain engineering could be extended to many other nanomaterials for rational design of electrode materials towards high energy storage applications beyond lithium-ion chemistry,” the scientists said in their research.
According to Professor Wang, who is also Director of the UTS Centre for Clean Energy Technology:
“Beyond-lithium-ion batteries are promising candidates for high-energy-density, low-cost and large-scale energy storage applications. However, the main challenge lies in the development of suitable electrode materials.”
If the strain-engineered nanomaterials can be successfully applied in electrodes, the field of battery and energy storage research will further expand to various potential storage solutions beyond lithium.
Cheaper alternatives to lithium could mean cheaper energy storage solutions.
Analysts predict that the price of lithium is set for a rally in the coming years, despite the current overall commodity price and demand slump because of the coronavirus crisis. The sales of EVs are only set to grow as many countries, especially in Europe, place the green recovery at the center of their stimulus packages.
For energy storage as a whole, the rise of renewables will also mean that research into cheaper and better storage solutions could not come soon enough.
Recently, researchers at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) proposed a design based on the mechanical properties of nanostructures containing diamonds that could potentially be used in mechanical energy storage devices, including batteries, biomedical sensing systems, wearables, and small robotics and electronics.
Mechanical energy storage systems are one of the many recent research projects and innovations in energy storage. Heat, gravity, or geothermal energy could be used to store and release energy, scientists and companies have set to prove.
While lithium-ion batteries are currently the most popular and widely used energy storage solution, the future may lie in nanostructures using mechanical rather than chemical energy forces.
In lithium batteries, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have recently developed a new strategy to address the limitations of the lithium-oxygen battery. According to the scientists, “This new strategy ensures high performance for lithium-oxygen batteries, acclaimed as a next-generation energy storage technology.”
The EV boom and the renewable energy rise need continuously improving and commercially viable energy storage solutions, regardless of the types of battery and their electrochemical or mechanical structure.