This finished manganese oxide cathode electrode is ready to be incorporated into a battery cell. Aquion’s sodium-ion batteries operate similarly to lithium-ion batteries, but they use far thicker electrodes that are cheaper to make and allow for simpler battery cells. The thicker electrodes are enabled by the use of a water-based electrolyte that’s more conductive than the organic solvent electrolyte that lithium-ion batteries use. (Aquion gets its name by combining aqua with ion.)
Photographs by Kevin Bullis | Technology Review
Microgrids, which typically combine renewable energy, batteries, and conventional diesel generators to provide electricity around the clock, are bringing power to remote villages around the world that don’t have access to the conventional grid. But they’re limited by the high cost and short lifetimes of batteries. Aquion, a startup based in Pittsburgh, is developing a battery that could be just as cheap as lead-acid batteries—the cheapest available now—but last two or three times as long, greatly lowering the lifetime cost of microgrids.
Aquion is building test versions of its batteries at a small pilot-scale factory. It will start shipping these batteries—which will be essentially the same as the final version of the battery—to customers next month. Technology Review got a look inside the factory to see how the new batteries are made. (For Technology Review’s initial coverage of Aquion, and more detail about the technology, see “Battery to Take on Diesel and Natural Gas.”)