By the end of the decade, cars could be powered by baking soda, while planes could run on fertilizer
Cars powered by baking soda and airplanes powered by fertilizer are likely to be around by the end of the decade, according to an Oxford expert.
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are hailed as a key role in the shift to renewable energy and are used in Teslas, iPhones, and cordless drills, among others.
Meanwhile, many companies believe that hydrogen is the ‘green’ way forward for aviation.
But Bill David, a professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Oxford, believes both will be outdone by surprising ingredients — one most people have in their kitchen cabinets.
He predicts that sodium—found in salt, seawater, and baking soda—will take the lead as the dominant battery type for cars and everyday gadgets.
“Basically we could retrofit an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 787 and touch just the wing to essentially replace ammonia with jet fuel,” Professor David said.
Bill David, professor of inorganic chemistry at Oxford University
The element is incredibly abundant – much more so than lithium, a metal extracted from mining and increasingly difficult to find.
However, it lacks some of the power of its current counterpart.
Professor David, who was part of the team that invented lithium batteries in 1980, made his predictions ahead of a presentation at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.
“It’s not quite perfect in terms of performance, so we need both,” he said. “Lithium will still be at the top of the pile, but there is more sodium around.
Sodium is on the rise and by 2030 most electric cars will have a combination of lithium and sodium batteries.
My finger in the air estimates that by 2040 I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 10 times more sodium batteries than lithium, maybe even 100 times.
‘We can make sodium batteries from salt, but prefer to use baking powder.’
He said there’s “no reason” why we can’t have 400-mile range cars that run on sodium batteries alone.
“Sodium works better at lower temperatures and higher temperatures than lithium batteries, they are easier to recycle and they are much cheaper,” he added.
Aviation, meanwhile, will have to take a different approach.
“We will never do international and intercontinental trips with batteries, they’re just too heavy,” he said.
While many companies believe that hydrogen is the way forward, Professor David believes that ammonia – found in fertilizers – is the sustainable solution.
A report on Net Zero Aviation released this week by the Royal Society warned that replacing traditional jet fuel with sustainable alternatives would mean the UK giving up half of its farmland.
It also stated that there is no single clear alternative to kerosene – with hydrogen, anomia and synthetic fuels requiring a massive increase in renewable energy production.
Cars powered by baking soda (stock image) and planes powered by fertilizer are likely to be out by the end of the decade, according to an Oxford expert
However, the paper, co-authored by Professor David, did not include some of his most recent work on ammonia at Sunborne Systems in Oxford.
There, Professor David is part of a team that aims to make air travel powered by existing ammonia supplies such as fertilizer a reality.
“I was part of that team that put together that Royal Society report and I didn’t include the technology we’re developing because I didn’t want to add it until we were absolutely sure we can offer it as an option ‘, he said.
‘We are developing an aircraft based on ammonia and we have interest from manufacturers of internal combustion engines.
“Basically, we could retrofit an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 787 and touch just the wing to essentially replace ammonia with jet fuel.
“When you do the sums, at 500 miles per hour you get the same flame speed as jet fuel and the same amount of power — but only 40 percent of the range.
“But even when the range is reached, a 787 can still go from London to New York. I think we’ll actually see the first of these in the sky in 2030.
“Right now the Rolls-Royces of the world are talking about hydrogen, but how do you get hydrogen to Heathrow? Ammonia is already at Heathrow as it is used for heating and cooling Terminal Five.
“That’s the pipeline that goes all the way to Heathrow, we can reuse that, and the storage tanks are already there. The only thing that would suffer in principle is that we would have 40 per cent of the range – but the infrastructure is there already.’
HOW DOES BATTERY CHARGING WORK?
In their simplest form, batteries consist of three components: a positive electrode, a negative electrode, and an electrolyte.
When a battery is charged, lithium ions are taken from the positive electrode and passed through the crystal structure and electrolyte to the negative electrode, where they are stored.
The faster this process is, the faster the battery can be charged.
The material from which a battery is made can severely limit this speed.
Graphite is a common material for the negative electrode because it accepts positive ions well and has a high energy density.
When looking for new electrode materials, researchers normally try to make the particles smaller.
However, it is difficult to make a practical battery with nanoparticles because it causes many unwanted chemical reactions with the electrolyte, which shortens the life of the battery and is also expensive to make.