Energy / Battery Game-Changer?


"Engineers at MIT have developed a new battery design using common materials - aluminum, sulfur and salt. Not only is the battery low-cost, but it's resistant to fire and can be charged very fast, which can make it useful for powering a home."

Engineers at MIT have developed a new battery design using common materials – aluminum, sulfur and salt. Not only is the battery low-cost, but it’s resistant to fire and failures, and can be charged very fast, which could make it useful for powering a home or charging electric vehicles.

Lithium-ion batteries have dominated the field for the last few decades, thanks to their reliability and high energy density. However, lithium is becoming scarcer and more expensive, and the cells can be hazardous, exploding or bursting into flames if damaged or improperly used. Cheaper, safer alternatives are needed, especially as the world transitions towards renewable energy and electric vehicles.

So the MIT team set out to design a new type of battery out of readily available, inexpensive materials. After a search and some trial and error, they settled on aluminum for one electrode and sulfur for the other, topped off with an electrolyte of molten chloro-aluminate salt. Not only are all of these ingredients cheap and common, but they’re not flammable, so there’s no risk of fire or explosion.

In tests, the team demonstrated that the new battery cells can withstand hundreds of charge cycles, and charge very quickly – in some experiments, less than a minute. The cells would cost just one sixth of the price of a similar-sized lithium-ion cell.

They can not only operate at high temperatures of up to 200 °C (392 °F) but they actually work better when hotter – at 110 °C (230 °F), the batteries charged 25 times faster than they did at 25 °C (77 °F). Importantly, the researchers say the battery doesn’t need any external energy to reach this elevated temperature – its usual cycle of charging and discharging is enough to keep it that warm.

Although the type of salt in the electrolyte was chosen because it has a low melting point, it coincidentally has another benefit – it naturally prevents the formation of dendrites. These metal tendrils, which gradually grow between the two electrodes until they cause a short circuit, are a major hurdle for batteries, particularly lithium-ion cells.

The team says that this battery design would be best suited to the scale of a few dozen kilowatt-hours, like powering an individual home from renewable sources. They could also be useful as charging stations for electric vehicles, thanks to their rapid charging. Other types of batteries, such as a recent design using molten salt electrolyte and aluminum and nickel electrodes, could work better at grid scale.

The patents for the aluminum-sulfur batteries have been licensed to a spinoff company called Avanti, co-founded by one of the authors of the study describing the design. The first order of business is to build it at scale, and run it through stress tests.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: MIT


If you read the article it does say, "Currently, the one big drawback is size ---- a single AA flashlight battery would have to be the size of a small car."



Agreed, Alan. Plenty more research and development needed. Years ago we has a wired phone attached to a wall. Now we walk around with push button mini mobile computers in our hands.

I want I want I want!!

I also wonder if Avanti is  public. I would assume still private, but would love to invest a little.

This is what we need to replaced the multi flawed lithium systems available now.


But what size would be needed for a house? another house?

> a single AA flashlight battery would have to be the size of a small car

The solution is really quite simple. We need to make small cars much smaller.

I wondered the same thing Mark, but it would be a long-term thing. Lots of research to do and hurdles to get through. Did a search. Is this them?

But yeah, that's the thing for me. People think electric and lithium is so neat, like we've solved the problem. They're way better than oil, but they still have their drawbacks.  

^sorta like electric cars potentially solving some problem(s) while still needing a charging source that at least for now pretty much requires standard power-generation via burning coal, etc. Solar is not quite there yet and/or is not being fully utilized for said power generation, not to mention the basic fact that a widely affordable e-car does not really exist in the market and the batteries are expensive and also difficult to dispose of which creates its own waste issue. I think it never ends or at least not really well. Onward we press.

There's no free lunch. No matter what our energy sources are, we have too many people. Yeah, we could probably stuff another couple of billion in, but at what cost to human livability and freedom, and at what cost to the natural environment?

Solar is not quite there yet and/or is not being fully utilized for said power generation<<<<

Will Prowse seems to have been able to connect the dots on this front; granted he's in Vegas with tons of sunshine and this is the sort of thing he likes to do with the wherewithal to make it happen.

Still, interesting article.  Hope the new chemistry holds promise for increasing storage capacity and such.  There wasn't any comparison to lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO) ... curious how they match up?

I started looking at some news about battery technology (thanks for the original post, Slickrock) and ran across this August 3rd article. Kinda depressing.

The U.S. made a breakthrough battery discovery — then gave the technology to China

[They were building a battery — a vanadium redox flow battery — based on a design created by two dozen U.S. scientists at a government lab. The batteries were about the size of a refrigerator, held enough energy to power a house, and could be used for decades. The engineers pictured people plunking them down next to their air conditioners, attaching solar panels to them, and everyone living happily ever after off the grid.

But that's not what happened. Instead of the batteries becoming the next great American success story, the warehouse is now shuttered and empty. All the employees who worked there were laid off. And more than 5,200 miles away, a Chinese company is hard at work making the batteries in Dalian, China.]