University of Sydney researchers have announced a new low-cost battery built with four times the capacity of lithium ion. The researchers are hoping that a new, low-cost battery is far cheaper to produce will significantly reduce the cost of transitioning to a decarbonized economy.

Led by Dr Shenlong Zhao from the University’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the battery has been made using sodium-sulfur – a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water – costing much less to produce than lithium-ion.

The team’s paper “Atomically Dispersed Dual‐Site Cathode with a Record High Sulfur Mass Loading for High‐Performance Room‐Temperature Sodium–Sulfur Batteries” has been published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The model of S@MoS2-Mo1/SGF (Figure 1f) is identified by simulating the atomic resolution HAADF-STEM image (Figure 1e) via QSTEM software. Image Credit: University of Sydney. Click the study paper link for more images and information.

Although sodium-sulfur (Na-S) batteries have existed for more than half a century, they have been an inferior alternative and their widespread use has been limited by low energy capacity and short life cycles.

Using a simple pyrolysis process and carbon-based electrodes to improve the reactivity of sulfur and the reversibility of reactions between sulfur and sodium, the researchers’ battery has shaken off its formerly sluggish reputation, exhibiting super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature.

The researchers say the Na-S battery is also a more energy dense and less toxic alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which, while used extensively in electronic devices and for energy storage, are expensive to manufacture and recycle.

Dr Zhao’s Na-S battery has been specifically designed to provide a high-performing solution for large renewable energy storage systems, such as electrical grids, while significantly reducing operational costs.

According to the Clean Energy Council, in 2021 32.5 percent of Australia’s electricity came from clean energy sources and the industry is accelerating. Household energy storage is also growing. According to a recent report a record 33,000 batteries were installed in 2021.

Lead researcher Dr Zhao said, “Our sodium battery has the potential to dramatically reduce costs while providing four times as much storage capacity. This is a significant breakthrough for renewable energy development which, although it reduces costs in the long term, has had several financial barriers to entry. When the sun isn’t shining and the breeze isn’t blowing, we need high-quality storage solutions that don’t cost the Earth and are easily accessible on a local or regional level.”

“We hope that by providing a technology that reduces costs we can sooner reach a clean energy horizon. It probably goes without saying but the faster we can decarbonize – the better chances we have of capping warming.” He added. “Storage solutions that are manufactured using plentiful resources like sodium – which can be processed from sea water – also have the potential to guarantee greater energy security more broadly and allow more countries to join the shift towards decarbonization.”

The lab-scale batteries (coin batteries) have been successfully fabricated and tested in the University of Sydney’s chemical engineering facility. The researchers now plan to improve and commercialize the recently fabricated Ah-level pouch cells.


One does hope that the sodium-sulfur chemistry for batteries keeps coming along. This team’s work is a major improvement and signals that there is much innovative room to improve this chemistry. Congratulations are in order for insight well used to the benefit of the entire battery complex from raw material producers to the end user. A four fold increase would be a huge boon for consumer products and depressurize the lithium demand across the whole market spectrum.

Its too bad the motivation expressed hinges on grid storage. But the team works in a market that is being run by politicians and bureaucrats instead of engineers, who are driving to “decarbonize”, which is rather scary as carbon dioxide is the principle food source for the plants on earth – that feeds, well, Everything and Everybody.


2 Comments so far

  1. Paul Robbins on December 16, 2022 1:00 PM

    The quip at the end is kind of a cheap shot.

    I do not know anyone advocating for complete carbon removal.

  2. Paul Robbins on December 16, 2022 1:01 PM

    Otherwise, it is an interesting article.

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