Smartphones today use batteries made of lithium which have its own disadvantages: they are expensive to manufacture because the raw material has to be mined and they contribute to climate change and pollution.
Now researchers are studying a more abundant and easily accessible material for smartphone batteries, even faster when it comes to charging. Such material can be found in the ocean: sodium.
Chongwu Zhou, a professor of electrical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, ventured on making smartphone batteries using sodium and found relative success.
Photo via USC
He made a breakthrough by being able to store sodium ions in graphite – which are typically too big for the soft mineral made of carbon. Together with doctoral student Yihang Liu, he arranged red phosphorus on sheets of graphene, resulting to wavy sheets of “nanodots” that could store and release sodium ions required for the battery to operate. Through this, he paved the way for sodium-ion batteries.
“Imagine being able to walk right up to the ocean just a few miles from here,” said Liu, “and get all the salt you need to manufacture all the world’s cellphone batteries.”
As of writing, the sodium-ion battery that Zhou developed can be charged to 50% capacity in just two minutes.
However, it is not yet up for commercial use as the team still plans to improve the performance and the life of the battery. For now, we will have to make use with the lithium ion batteries.