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Gizmorama - October 16, 2017

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The science community seems to be all about the batteries as of late. Sodium could be the new lithium when it comes to batteries. Check out the first "powerful" article!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Sodium could replace lithium for more cost-efficient battery storage, scientists say --*

Researchers at Stanford University have built a sodium-based battery that can store just as much energy as a lithium-ion battery, but at a significantly reduced cost.

Lithium-ion batteries have been the standard bearer for the last 25 years. But lithium is becoming increasingly scarce and mining costs are steep.

Sodium -- which also hosts ions that can be moved from a cathode to an anode across an electrolyte to create a current -- is more abundant and cheaper to process.

The new sodium-based battery may never meet the needs of electric car makers, but researchers believe it could help store the energy harvested by sustainable sources, like solar cells and wind turbines.

"Nothing may ever surpass lithium in performance," Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineer at Stanford, said in a news release. "But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium."

It costs roughly $15,000 a ton to mine lithium. Harvesting sodium costs just $150 per ton.

In the newly designed sodium-ion battery, the sodium ions are attached to myo-inositol, a common chemical compound that can be derived from rice bran or the liquid byproduct leftover by the corn milling process.

The new pairing of sodium ions and myo-inositol significantly improved the latest iteration of their sodium-based battery, more efficiently moving ions from the cathode cross the electrolyte to the phosphorous anode.

In addition to making cost-performance comparisons between lithium and sodium, Bao and her colleagues made sure to analyze how sodium ions attach and detach from the cathode during the charging and discharging process. Their insights helped improve the battery's design.

But researchers say they need to do more tests to determine how the battery system's volumetric energy density compares to a lithium-ion battery. Scientists want to know how big the sodium-ion battery needs to be to store as much energy as a lithium-ion battery.

Bao and her colleagues also plan to improve upon the design of their battery's phosphorous anode.

The scientists detailed their early success in a new paper published this week in the journal Nature Energy.

*-- Microlasers get a performance boost from a bit of gold --*

Scientists have boosted the efficiency of microlasers using tiny gold particles, thus expanding the technology's real-world application possibilities.

Researchers at the University of Southern California were able to create a tiny, energy-efficient frequency comb by attaching gold nanoparticles to the surface of a tiny laser.

Frequency combs create a rainbow of light frequencies from a single color. The technology is used in a variety of fields, but is most often employed as a sensor capable of measuring the spectral properties of tiny targets, like potentially harmful chemicals.

Today, the best commercial frequency combs are prohibitively expensive and require larges amounts of power, limiting their potential outside the lab. Scientists at USC were able to create a frequency comb with their gold-enhanced microlaser using only a few milliwatts of power.

The experiments -- detailed this week in the journal Photonics -- showcase the potential of a smaller, more mobile frequency comb.

"These results exemplify what can happen if researchers from different fields work together on a basic science problem that has applied research impact," Andrea Armani, a professor of engineering and materials science at USC, said in a news release. "By combining expertise in optics and in nanomaterials, we made exceptionally fast progress that challenged and disproved the conventional thought in the field that gold nanoparticles would be detrimental to the laser."

The gold nanorods work like little optical amplifiers, boosting the intensity of the microlaser's light.

"The higher-intensity light can then interact with organic molecules on the surface of the gold to generate other wavelengths of light," said Vinh Diep, a materials science PhD student. "This combined effect allows for the comb generation to begin at a much lower power than the traditional pulsed-laser approach."

With the addition of gold particles, the tiny laser can produce a large spectrum of frequencies, covering a wavelength range of 300 nanometers. Such a wide spectral range could make the device useful in chemical spectroscopy systems, like portable sensors used to detect explosives and dangerous gases.


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