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Prof. Sabrina Sartori at the Weizmann Institute of Science

Cooperating for a Clean Future

"Misfit layering" could be the key to producing materials for new types of batteries to store solar and wind power

Prof. Sabrina Sartori at the Weizmann Institute of Science

Prof. Sabrina Sartori at the Weizmann Institute of Science

“Imagine filling up your tank with metal powders and hydrogen. Or maybe lighting your house with batteries that were charged earlier in the day by wind and solar power. I believe this is the future of energy storage.” says Sabrina Sartori, a visiting professor who is working with Prof. Reshef Tenne in the Materials and Interfaces Department of the Weizmann Institute. Their collaboration was made possible by a Feinberg Foundation visiting faculty program fellowship.

Among other things, the Italian-born Sartori, who is based in Norway, investigates materials that can be used for batteries that will be able to efficiently store energy produced during the daytime in solar cells. When she was considering the possibility of working with an Institute scientist through the visiting faculty program fellowship, the work of Tenne and his group caught her attention. Sartori was particularly interested in new methods he was developing for producing inorganic nanotubes, while Tenne saw that the collaboration could take the work of his group in new and fruitful directions.

“The concept is to develop a stationary storage method to facilitate the integration of intermittent wind and solar power sources into the grid,” says Sartori. “For this application, lithium-ion batteries are not considered to be the best option, due to high costs and a shortage of lithium. Sodium, unlike lithium, is relatively cheap and readily available worldwide.” There is, however, a drawback: Existing sodium-based batteries operate at high temperatures (250°C and higher) and require sophisticated engineering that drives up costs considerably. Thus there is a huge incentive to develop new types of sodium-based batteries. One of the major scientific challenges in this area is the synthesis of high performance electrodes.

The negative electrode material currently utilized in these batteries is graphite, but researchers are searching for replacement materials that might improve performance. “With the help of Prof. Tenne and his PhD student Gal Radovsky, we are trying to synthesize a new family of inorganic nanotubes as innovative anodes,” explains Sartori. Tenne and his group are pioneers in the field of inorganic compounds that form fullerene-like nanostructures or nanotubes. One way they have been creating these inorganic nanostructures is via so-called “misfit layered” compounds. These consist of stacks of layers alternated with different chemical compositions and structures. Because the interactions between the layers are weak, sodium can be introduced between the layers, creating a sort of shuttle for transferring electricity.

The goal, says Sartori, is to create a nano-composite with extraordinarily high capacity and reasonably good charge-discharge cycles. “The synthesis is challenging, but we believe such inorganic nanostructures could offer many applications, particularly in the field of energy and electronics. This work could open a new field of research and strengthen the collaboration between Israel and Norway in the years to come, joining forces for a clean energy future,” she says.

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Israel BDS – building dialogue through science – aims to promote the kind of international collaboration that can lead to true understanding between people. Israel BDS stands for the free and open exchange of ideas among scientists everywhere. By reporting on the benefits of Israeli-international scientific research and the web of connections that these scientists create around the world, Israel BDS takes a vibrant approach to highlighting the global necessity of continued international scientific collaboration.

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