Cheap, powerful sodium batteries take step closer to reality after discovery

17 Jul 2020

This week in future tech, researchers have found a way to create sodium batteries that could be significantly cheaper and more capacious than lithium ones.

An international team of scientists has found that instead of lithium, sodium ‘stacked’ in a special way can be used for battery production. If achieved, mass-produced sodium batteries could be significantly cheaper and have considerably more capacity than ones using lithium.

Despite being an expensive alkaline metal with limited reserves globally, there is currently no effective alternative to lithium-ion batteries. This is due to the fact that lithium is one of the lightest chemical elements, making it very difficult to replace when creating capacious batteries.

However, writing in Nano Energy, the researchers found that if they stacked sodium atoms in a certain way, they could also demonstrate high energy intensity.

“For a long time, it was believed that lithium atoms in batteries can only be located in one layer, otherwise the system will be unstable,” said Ilya Chepkasov, a researcher at the National University of Science and Technology in Russia.

“Despite this, recent experiments by our German colleagues have shown that with careful selection of methods, it is possible to create multilayer stable lithium structures between graphene layers. This opens up broad prospects for increasing the capacity of such structures.”

Quietening noisy circuits in quantum computers

New research shows that limited near-term quantum computers may be more powerful than they seem when solving a problem that is impossible for comparable classical computers.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo, IBM, Technical University of Munich and the University of Technology Sydney have published a study to Nature documenting a new algorithm. Its purpose is to solve a problem on a noisy quantum circuit that has a constant depth, meaning it has to solve the problem within a limited set of steps.

Correcting for errors caused by noise in a quantum circuit normally takes extra steps, losing the quantum advantage of solving the problem in a limited amount of time. However, this new algorithm is designed to correct errors at the same time as it solves a problem, allowing the circuit to remain on a constant path.

“The problem we’re solving with the circuit is not necessarily useful itself, but the fact that there is a quantum advantage is another piece of evidence that quantum computers may one day be able to surpass classical computers at certain tasks,” said David Gosset of the University of Waterloo.

3D-printed latex gloves now possible after breakthrough

Researchers at Virginia Tech have announced a breakthrough in materials science that allows for latex rubber to be 3D printed. Publishing their findings to ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, the authors said that until now 3D-printed latex has only been achieved a handful of times and came nowhere near the mechanical properties of this new design.

After unsuccessful attempts to synthesise a material that would provide the ideal molecular weight and mechanical properties, the researchers turned to commercial liquid latexes, which were later found to be too fragile and difficult to alter. However, with an additional nanoscale scaffold and a specially designed printer, it became possible to 3D print latex.

“When designing the scaffold, the biggest thing you have to worry about is stability of everything,” said researcher Phil Scott. “It took a lot of reading, even stuff as basic as learning why colloids are stable and how colloidal stability works, but it was a really fun challenge.”

Irish e-scooter firm Zeus eyes UK market

Zeus, an Irish company developing a three-wheeled, dockless e-scooter is hoping to break into the UK market after the country’s government announced its first public trials of the technology.

Plans to have e-scooters in UK cities have been accelerated as a result of Covid-19 in order to provide alternative transport solutions to people who may not want to travel on public transport or in taxis.

The Irish company was founded by former banker, Damian Young who launched Zeus scooters in Heidelberg, Germany. Zeus already has agreements in place with six German cities to have its e-scooters available on the streets for public hire.

Speaking of a potential launch in Ireland, Young said: “We would certainly hope that the Irish Government will see electric scooters as a sustainable, environmentally friendly transport solution and a means of easing traffic congestion in Irish cities.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic