Could the future of batteries be….sugar?

According to a research group at the Tokyo University of Science, this may be a reality. The study leader, Associate Professor Shinichi Komaba, has confirmed that an adequate material for sodium ion batteries can be made by breaking down sucrose, the main component of sugar, using heat and chemicals.

Using sugar is not only more efficient, but is also much more cost-effective. Most rechargeable batteries found in digital cameras, cell phones, and other electronics are lithium ion batteries, but lithium is a rare element, making these batteries expensive. Since lithium is rare, it must be imported to many countries, contributing to the high price. Sodium ion batteries were created as a cheaper, more sustainable substitute. Sodium supply, unlike lithium, is unlimited; and plentiful elements like iron, aluminum, and sodium can be used in manufacturing, instead of copper or cobalt. Sugar is what turns batteries into high-capacity devices – the battery’s negative charge comes from hard carbon derived from sucrose, another extremely abundant element.

Hard carbon is made using a process called pyrolyzing, which basically means it’s heated in an oxygen-free electric furnace at a very high temperature. The process is very precise because the sucrose will burn if air gets in, but even so, it is very easy to manufacture. The end result is a black powder, called hard carbon.

The research group has been able to increase the storage capacity of regular batteries by 20% simply by using sucrose as the base for hard carbon. Kombata’s group forsees that it may take five years before a practical version of the battery is produced, but the savings in both money and rare elements would certainly be a real breakthrough in the way our electronics are powered.

Posted in Gadgets, Tech News

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