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Boffins have discovered they can improve battery capacity by using sucrose - aka table sugar - to create the anode material.

Shinichi Komaba and his team at Tokyo University of Science made the discovery during their efforts to produce commercially viable sodium-ion batteries, according to Japanese tech site DigInfo.tv. The eggheads hope to create high-performance alternatives to lithium-ion storage cells.

By pyrolising sucrose – heating it at 1,000 to 1,500 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen, for example in a stream of argon or nitrogen – they were able to create a new type of black hard carbon powder.

This material functions effectively as a battery anode, which is the negative (-) terminal of the device. The zapped sucrose increases storage capacity by 20 per cent to 300 mAh over conventional hard carbon, the report continued.

The scientists spent seven years researching sodium-ion batteries in an attempt to find an alternative to the more common lithium ion variety, which is particularly expensive in Japan because the country needs to import its entire supply of lithium.

"In fact, the supply of sodium is unlimited. Also, sodium-ion batteries can be made using iron, aluminium, and sodium, rather than cobalt or copper as before. What's more, our results show that battery capacity can be increased simply by using carbon made from sugar as the anode,” Komaba told the site.

“So high-performance batteries like expensive lithium batteries, which are an important type of rechargeable battery, may be achievable using cheaper, more abundant materials. We believe that, if the technology and performance can be improved, development may progress toward practical batteries that can replace lithium ion batteries."

Sodium ion batteries may now be a commercial reality within the next five years, according to Komaba.

Sodium-based batteries have already been suggested by researchers at Perth’s Murdoch University as a less toxic alternative to lead-acid batteries in solar power installations. ®

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