Batteries energy storage apples Germany

Published on February 19th, 2016 | by Tina Casey


New Apple Peel Battery Could Compete With Tesla’s Lithium-Ion Batteries

February 19th, 2016 by  

Researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have come up with an energy storage solution that could make good use of waste from the country’s apple processing industry. They have found that leftover apple waste has “excellent” electrochemical properties for use in sodium-ion batteries, when reduced to a carbon material.

Sodium-ion technology is beginning to emerge as an alternative to the lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and many other EV manufacturers as well as stationary energy storage companies (that would include Tesla, too) so let’s take a look under the hood and see what’s cooking.

energy storage apples Germany

From Apples To Energy Storage

You can find the new energy storage study in the journal Advanced Energy Materials under the title “Layered Na-Ion Cathodes with Outstanding Performance Resulting from the Synergetic Effect of Mixed P- and O-type Phases.”

For those of you on the go, the Karlsruhe press material breaks it down in plain language, leading off with, “A carbon-based active material produced from apple leftovers and a material of layered oxides might help reduce the costs of future energy storage systems.”

If that sounds a little off the rails, consider that here in the US, researchers have found that bee pollen and pollen from cattails can also yield excellent results. Here’s the rundown from Karlsruhe:

For the negative electrode, a carbon-based material was developed, which can be produced from the leftovers of apples and possesses excellent electrochemical properties. So far, more than 1000 charge and discharge cycles of high cyclic stability and high capacity have been demonstrated.

The research team also points out that the sodium oxides used on the positive electrode are non-hazardous, abundant, and inexpensive. The lab results indicate that the energy storage properties — capacity, voltage, and stability — are the same as that of a lithium-ion battery with cobalt.


Sodium-Ion Energy Storage

As we often say here at CleanTechnica, everything has impacts, and while battery EV technology solves a global warming conundrum, it also involves the use of hazardous materials.

Specifically, the sodium-ion energy storage solution proposed by the Karlsruher Institute team would replace the cobalt used in conventional lithium-ion batteries:

Sodium-ion batteries are not only far more powerful than nickel-metal hydride or lead acid accumulators, but also represent an alternative to lithium-ion technology, as the initial materials needed are highly abundant, easily accessible, and available at low cost.

It would also enable Germany to put its massive amounts of agricultural waste to more productive use, providing the kind of green twofer that extractive industries can’t achieve.

That could explain why US researcher John Goodenough, who is credited with inventing the lithium-ion battery, has been moving on to sodium-ion energy storage. The last time we checked in, he was experimenting with a Lord-of-the-Ringsy sounding mineral called eldfellite with an eye on commercial development.

It’s been a long road — back in 2008, our sister site predicted the replacement of lithium-ion with sodium-ion batteries — but it looks like things are starting to move along. A research team from France also appears ready to crack the sodium-ion code.

For its part, the Karlsruhe team is aiming primarily at the stationary energy storage market, but at least one company, Faradion, has introduced a sodium-ion electric bike as a first step to commercializing the technology for larger vehicles.

Here in the US, the company SimpliPhi has come up with a non-cobalt energy storage solution to challenge the Tesla Powerwall stationary battery (if SimpliPhi doesn’t ring a bell, think LibertyPak and you’re on the right track).

Speaking of Tesla, would or could the forthcoming Tesla Gigafactory convert to new energy storage technology if something superior does emerge? Elon, JB, and crew have said it could. If you have more thoughts about that, leave us a note in the comment thread.

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Image via KIT/HIU

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • neroden

    Sodium-ion has higher weight per kilowatt-hour than lithium-ion and apparently that’s pretty much unavoidable.

    This leads me to believe that lithium-ion will continue being used for *automobiles* and other mobile applications. Sodium-ion may take over stationary applicatons

  • Ian

    I’m not sure how hard it would be to convert Tesla’s factory. It would probably depend a lot on how different the alternative new technology is from what the factory is set up to do. But I think the real problem with the rapid advance/change in the technology is that it’s more difficult to find people willing to invest enough money to scale up a technology to achieve the economies of scale that are needed to bring down the cost when nobody knows if it their investment will be obsolete next year.

    I find it interesting that these ‘natural’ sources for nanostructured cathode materials keep popping up. They’re prospecting nature for nanostructures instead of trying to manufacture them in the lab. Sounds like a rich vein to explore.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Tesla stated early on that the Gigafactory would be designed so that it could readily change to a different type battery if something better came along.

      If someone can produce prototype data for a battery that outperforms what is currently being used there will be no problem finding funding. EV batteries will be a very large industry with a lot of money to be made.

      • In an interview, Elon Musk stated that most battery “breakthroughs” do not materialize. He further stated that his team is watching about 60 different battery projects. If something develops, they will know about it.

    • ROBwithaB

      Kapok would be an interesting place to look. Basically a perfect carbon nanotube, already made by nature. Almost pure cellulose (once you remove the oils).
      Very cheap and easy to source in large quantities. Multiple sources around the world. Completely renewable resource.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    I can spot the Tina articles by the title alone.

    • neroden

      Yeah, they’re too sensationalist. Too much unexplained jargon too.

  • JamesWimberley

    Since all plant material is predominantly carbon, in structured chains of cellulose, starch, sugars etc, you can presumably generate a high-surface material like charcoal from a huge range of sources. Cow poop is less cute than apples, but it might work just as well.

    • Eric Lukac-Kuruc

      Would be harder promoting the fact that it can be eaten !

    • ROBwithaB

      I think it has to do with the inherent nano-structure of the plant material even before it is charred. Not all “charcoal” is equal.
      Instead of having to artificially create some sort of carbon nanotube structure in the lab, find an existing thing within nature that has the structural properties you’re looking for. Then pyrolise that. Organic material (specially cellulosic material) tends to keep it’s basic structure when charred.
      Not sure what’s in the Apfelmus that makes it interesting, but I suspect that one would be looking for extremely finely segregated material.
      Ratio of surface area to volume, and all that. Which is what you’re looking for in an electrode.

      I would be most interested to experiment with certain very fine, hollow cellulosic fibres, like those found in some seed pods.

      And fungi. Specifically various types of “tinder fungus”. And maybe puffballs too.

  • Chris_in_Raleigh

    When I saw the headline I was wondering what this new peel battery was that Apple was going to make. A better headline would use a hyphen: “Apple-peel battery”. 🙂

    • I thought the exact same thing! It’s very “click bait”.

    • jeffhre

      Or, Carbon for batteries can be made from apple peels.

  • Necro Nomaken

    Compete with? Moment some battery technology beats lithium ion, Musk’ll adopt it. Only reason Musk is making a lithium ion battery factory is that it’s the only thing he can currently do to make electric vehicles or electrical storage technology more appealing – reduce the cost. If there was a cheaper or better-for-the-same-cost battery available, he wouldn’t be building a lithium ion factory, he’d be building a that-battery factory.

    • jeffhre

      “he only thing he can currently do to make electric vehicles or electrical storage technology more appealing – reduce the cost.” (and increase the energy density/lower weight)

  • vensonata

    Aquion, Sodium batteries have been for sale for more than a year now. Theoretically they could be eaten, without being any more damaging than salted peanuts. The price per kwh is almost identical to Tesla 7 powerwall at about $428. They have 3000 cycles at 100% depth of discharge, which starts to approach the promised 5000 cycle Tesla battery. However the efficiency round trip is about 80% vs 92%. They are heavy too, heavier than lead acid. So given a choice I still take the Tesla lithium, but drop the price by 50% and I might choose the Aquion.

    • Illuminati

      Tesla Energy PowerPack: 5,000 cycles, $250/kWh.

      • vensonata

        I hope it is so. I was referring to the 7 kwh powerwall. I fear though that the powerpack is the same as the 10 kwh powerwall at 12-1500 cycles. That would bring it in at about 16 cents kwh. If it were 5000 cycles then it would be a lovely 5 cents kwh. May it be so, may it be so. I am considering purchasing one for a large off grid community, and it would be so nice if it was that cheap.

        • Jamset

          If the Powerpack cannot be cycled as much as the 7kWh Powerwall, is there really any point in having the 100kWh Powerpack?

          • vensonata

            If we calculate the powerblock at 1500 cycles at $250 per cycle it comes in at 16 cents kwh. If we calculate the 7 kwh powerwall at 5000 cycles at $428 kwh it comes in at 10 cents kwh. In that case I would buy, say, 9 powerwalls, 63 kwh. But if the Powerblock has 5000 cycles then it comes in at 5cents kwh and would save much labour in installation and give a weeks storage and so I would purchase that.

          • Jamset

            I just wonder if Tesla will cut battery prices after the gigafactory is running at full speed.

            $175/kWh? Or is the demand so high that Tesla can keep selling batteries for $250/kWh.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I would suspect Tesla will charge whatever the market will bear. They need capital in order to keep growing their business.

            As long as people buy as much as Tesla can produce it makes no business sense to lower their profit margins.

    • omar

      How come they have same price with difference performance !!!

      • vensonata

        That, my friend, you will have to take up with Elon. I imagine some genius with an MBA figured out what people were willing to pay for different formats. The 100 kwh powerpack is commercial scale and they have their own strange ways of figuring things.

        • jeffhre

          “I imagine some genius with an MBA figured out what people were willing to pay for different formats.”

          Established firms will cover their downside risks while working to create value for shareholders based on programs that are written by MBAs; Tesla will try to create value for customers by creating vehicles people want.

          One more reason why Tesla will slowly and inexorably take a bit more market share from major OEMs each year.

    • Jamset

      You could ship the Aquion batteries with the tank half full and add distilled water in the home.

      A bit like AdBlue.

      So ship the tank half full, and once it is installed, add distilled water to it.

    • Matt

      Well if you data is correct, then if the price dropped to 1/4-1/10 of it’s current price (or 1/2 whatever the then Lithium-Ion Batteries price is) it could be a big player in stationary storage. Where weight is not a big issue.

      • vensonata

        Aquion will no doubt be a player. They already have several large off grid solar ranches installed. They aim to provide about 97% of all electricity with PV and battery and 3% by back up generator. One in California another in Hawaii. These batteries are not “sensitive” like others. They are hard to murder through incompetence and neglect as so many lead acid banks are.

    • neroden

      Vensonata: I think you just explained why sodium-ion is a competitor in the stationary storage market but not in the automotive market. The weight.

  • Marion Meads

    Nothing beats industrial cannabis for graphene type carbon based electrodes.

    • jeffhre

      Ohhhh. That explains a lot things!

    • OnionMan77

      The downside would have to be the memory effect.

      • ROBwithaB

        I chuckled.

  • Jamset

    It would probably be better to interview Sakti3 every month along with Oxis to see what progress has been made in their batteries.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If only companies would release information other than what they give to their PR people….

      • Jamset

        Well the Tesla fans keep flying drones to take photos of the Gigafactory and we get little bits of info such as “it is ahead of schedule” or “the equipment is taking up less space than expected”.

        Oxis is building batteries for satellites with an extreme temperature range or extreme cycle life.

        That could mean not needing to have cooling for EV batteries.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Do you have comparison numbers for the Oxis and Panasonic/Tesla batteries? Weight, volume, cycle life, cost?

          • Jamset

            Oxis have a couple of PDF files that you can download with that info.

            But as for low cost, only Tesla has the gigafactory.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I thought you’d have the relevant data to tell us if Oxis batteries are appropriate for EV use.

          • Jamset

            Oxis has no gigafactory, so they cannot supply the EV market.

            Sakti3 is gung ho about solid state lithium batteries and says SSL is inevitable!

          • Bob_Wallace

            If Oxis had a better EV battery than what Tesla, BYD and other EV manufacturers were using someone would build the factory.

            The question is, do they have a better battery? What do the spec sheets say?

          • Jamset

            They can be used at up to 80℃.

            You can shoot a bullet through it and it will not catch fire:


            They are promising energy density of 300-500Wh/kg by 2020.

            I am surprised that you would not download the 2 PDF files yourself.

          • Bob_Wallace

            By 2020 is speculation. It tells me that there’s reason Tesla is not using this battery today.

            As for opening the links, I sort of expect people to supply the data for their argument and not expect others to do the work for them.

          • sjc_1

            Oxis has a battery with cycles and another with capacity, maybe they will have both in the future.

  • crevasse

    I already use them in my DeLorean’s Mr. Fusion reactor.

  • TD1

    EV Batteries made from apples for the …

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