With four times the energy storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries, the humble saltwater battery has the theoretical potential to significantly lower the cost of current battery technology used in consumer electronics and electric cars. The concept isn’t new, Ford Motor Company was one of the first companies to develop the sodium-sulfur battery in the 1960s to power prototype electric cars. The element that goes into making a saltwater battery, sodium-sulfur, is often referred to as a type of “molten salt”. Sodium sulfur is easily synthesized from seawater making it a cheaper alternative to Lithium-ion batteries.
However, the problem with saltwater batteries is that they operate at high temperatures to unleash that high energy density. The trade-off is a short life span, which is why the technology never really took off. However, researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia claim to have developed a saltwater battery that operates at room temperature, retains superior energy capacity, and has an ultra-long life.
Scientists experimented with a range of electrodes to improve the chemistry of sulfur, which is the main component that determines the total storage capacity of a saltwater battery. Scientists are hailing their development as a significant breakthrough.
Theoretical and controlled lab experiments are the first step, the next step for the scientists at Sydney University is to optimize and scale their saltwater battery for commercial production. It’s difficult to verify the claims made by the scientists, where is the peer review?
One possible scenario is that Sydney University has made a small breakthrough and is looking for more research funding. This will not be the first high-energy, low-cost battery breakthrough, there have been many over the years. None have gained traction.
The proof? Consumer electronics and electric vehicles are still currently powered by Lithium-ion batteries.