Batteries are awesome, they keep everything from our watches and flashlights to kids toys … and adult toys running. Sadly, the lithium that’s used in a lot of batteries isn’t so great. So, what if we could replace it with seawater?
Lithium-ion batteries, are used in a lot of electronics (think cell phones). Their environmental impact is pretty horrific, so it’s good news that a group of scientists from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea may have created a greener alternative that uses sea water.
The problem is how the lithium is mined. It really sucks when you think about the fact that it’s even used in such groundbreaking tech as Tesla’s Powerwall. The need for the mineral keeps costs artificially high, and the environmental costs even higher.
Their device is being described as a sodium-air, or sodium oxygen, battery. Along with being greener, they are also more efficient for power usage than lithium ion batteries. The idea has been around for a while, but they’ve never really been ready for prime time, at least not until the Ulsan scientists tried seawater. It acts as what they call a “catholyte – a cathode and electrolyte combined together.” According to their research, it’s the constant flow of seawater in and out of the battery that helps produce the charge.
Early tests show lithium-ion batteries out performing the seawater batteries, with a comparable discharge output of 3.6 volts vs 2.7 volts, but the scientists are convinced that this step of using seawater is what they need to eventually make a commercially viable, rechargeable battery that doesn’t rely on lithium.