Co-doped carbon anode material for high performance seawater batteries

Credit: Korea Maritime and Ocean University

Despite the many potential applications of seawater batteries (SWBs), the limited performance of available materials has hampered their commercialization. To solve this problem, scientists from Korea Maritime and Ocean University have developed a new co-doped carbon material for the anode of SWBs. Their simple synthetic route and the high performance of the developed anode material will pave the way for the widespread adoption of SWBs, which are safer and cheaper than lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries have conquered the world thanks to their remarkable properties. However, the scarcity and high cost of lithium has led researchers to seek alternative types of rechargeable batteries made from more abundant materials, such as sodium. A particularly promising type of sodium-based battery is seawater batteries (SWBs), which use seawater as the cathode.

Although SWBs are environmentally friendly and naturally non-flammable, the development of high performance anode materials at a reasonable cost remains a major bottleneck impeding commercialization. Traditional carbon-based materials are an attractive and cost-effective option, but they must be co-doped with multiple elements, such as nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S), to improve their performance. Unfortunately, the synthetic routes currently known for co-doping are complex, potentially dangerous and do not even give acceptable levels of doping.

In a recent study, a team of scientists from Korea Maritime and Ocean University led by Associate Professor Jun Kang found a way out of this conundrum. Their article, posted online on December 22, 2022 and published in volume 189 of Carbon on April 15, 2022, describes a new synthetic route to obtain N/S co-doped carbon for SWB anodes.

Called “plasma in liquid,” their procedure involves preparing a mixture of carbon, N, and S-containing precursors and discharging plasma into the solution. The result is a material with high doping levels of N and S with a structural backbone of carbon black. As proven by various experiments, this material showed great potential for SWBs, as Dr. Kang points out: “The co-doped anode material we prepared showed remarkable electrochemical performance in SWBs, with a life of more than 1500 cycles at a current density of 10 A/g.”

The potential maritime applications of SWBs are numerous, as they can be safely operated while completely submerged in seawater. They can be used to provide backup power to coastal nuclear power plants, which is difficult when using conventional diesel generators in the event of a catastrophic tsunami. In addition, they can be installed on buoys to facilitate navigation and fishing. Perhaps more importantly, SWBs could literally save lives, as Dr. Kang explains: “SWBs can be installed as a power source for lifesaving equipment on passenger ships. They would not only provide higher energy density than conventional primary batteries, but also allow stable operation in water, thus increasing chances of survival.”

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More information:
Hyeon-Su Yang et al, Easy in-situ synthesis of a double-heteroatom doped high-capacity carbon anode for rechargeable seawater batteries, Carbon (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.carbon.2021.12.066

Provided by Korea Maritime and Ocean University

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