High-performance lithium ion batteries face a major problem: Lithium will eventually start to run out as batteries are deployed in electric cars and stationary storage units. Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have now discovered an alternative: the “fool’s gold battery”. It consists of iron, sulfur, sodium and magnesium – all elements that are in plentiful supply. This means that giant storage batteries could be built on the cheap and used stationary in buildings or next to power plants, for instance.
There is an urgent need to search for low-priced batteries to store electricity. Intermittency of green electricity is affecting the power grids, calling for stationary storage units to be connected into a smart grid. Electric cars are of increasing popularity, but are still too expensive. Efficient lithium ion batteries we know are not suitable for large-scale stationary storage of electricity; they are just too expensive and precious lithium is too scarce. A cheap alternative is called for – a battery made of inexpensive ingredients that are highly abundant. But electrochemistry is a tricky business: Not everything that’s cheap can be used to make a battery.