Potash mines may soon target the battery market, after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) researchers created a potassium battery that closely mimics the performance of its lithium-ion counterparts.
The new research discovered a way to prevent potassium metal batteries from forming dendrites – harmful crystalline structures that can cause degraded batteries to explode.
This is promising for Australia’s potash mining industry, with potassium being a more common and less expensive element than lithium.
Australian potash mines are still in their infancy, with Kalium Lakes set to begin commercial production of its Beyondie sulphate of potash project in Western Australia later this year.
Lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of technologies including mobile phones, solar power and electric cars.
The cathode inside a lithium-ion battery is made of lithium cobalt oxide and a graphite anode.
Despite potassium being a less energy-dense element than lithium, the research discovered that replacing both of these parts, rather than just the lithium cobalt oxide will help boost its performance.
Both parts of the lithium-ion battery were replaced with potassium cobalt oxide and a potassium anode instead.
To prevent dendrite build-up, RPI researchers found operating the battery at a high charge and discharge rate helps the dendrites shrink and eventually smooth out.
RPI’s research team hopes potassium will hold the key to solving the problem of dendrites in batteries.
Potassium is also vital to Australia’s agricultural industry, helping improve crop yield and quality.