Microsoft and scientists have discovered a new sodium-based material that can reduce the need for scarce lithium in batteries by up to 70% – a development that could dramatically transform energy storage, electric vehicles and technology.
AI Helps Identify Promising New Material
In a new collaboration with Microsoft, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have used artificial intelligence to rapidly screen over 32 million candidates and identify a sodium-based solid electrolyte material for batteries that allows the removal of up to 70% of lithium without compromising performance.
The breakthrough discovery was made possible by combining Microsoft Azure, Azure Quantum and Azure high-performance computing with PNNL’s advanced AI/ML models and decades of battery expertise. This allowed an extremely fast screening through millions of candidate materials to identify the most promising options.
“This AI-powered screening is not only lightning fast, it’s also smart,” said Dr. Jagjit Nanda, a Senior Research Scientist at PNNL who led the work. “It learns from past data to propose better candidates, allowing an exponential increase in the speed and effectiveness at identifying novel materials.”
New Material Could Enable Cheaper, Safer Batteries
The newly discovered sodium-argon chloride material allows the removal of up to 70% of lithium from batteries without impacting performance. This could enable wider adoption of sodium-ion batteries that are much cheaper and safer compared to mainstream lithium-ion batteries.
The material was synthesized in PNNL’s advanced battery labs and found to have high ionic conductivity on par with commercial lithium-ion batteries. Further testing and optimization will be done before commercialization, but Microsoft and PNNL scientists are very optimistic about its potential.
“This discovery essentially gives us license to explore a whole new palette of safer, cheaper batteries,” said Dr. Johnathon Briggs, a principal researcher at Microsoft. “And the beauty is, thanks to AI and cloud computing, we can do this exponentially faster than ever before.”
Collaborative Effort Combining AI, Supercomputing
The breakthrough material is the first major result of a new three-year research collaboration announced this week between Microsoft and PNNL to accelerate discovery and innovation across scientific domains through the combined power of AI and high-performance computing.
|Key Collaboration Details
|Microsoft & Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
|Sustainable energy, climate resiliency, fundamental sciences
|3 years (2024-2027)
|Microsoft Azure, Azure Quantum, Azure HPC, PNNL supercomputers
“We firmly believe the next generation of cloud computing will be able to benefit scientific discoveries and innovations at a tremendous pace thanks to AI,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announcing the collaboration at a media event this week.
The effort aligns with Microsoft’s vision of using its cloud computing prowess to help address pressing global challenges like climate change. It also demonstrates the power of converging AI, supercomputing and cloud to invent new solutions.
What Could This Mean for Batteries, EVs and More
The sodium-based electrolyte material discovered has very high conductivity for both sodium and lithium ions. This gives it the ability to enable batteries that minimize or eliminate lithium use for the first time without compromising on performance.
Some potential impacts analysts and industry experts have highlighted:
- Safer, cheaper grid-scale batteries for renewable energy storage
- Lower cost lithium batteries for electric vehicles by reducing lithium demand
- Enabling viability of sodium-ion batteries as a low-cost lithium alternative
- Reducing battery industry’s vulnerability to lithium price shocks and shortages
- Faster charging capabilities for devices and equipment
- More environmentally benign battery recycling and disposal
“This intriguing new material lays the foundation for cheaper, safer, more sustainable batteries,” said Mathew Johnson, a battery industry analyst at Roskill. “Combined with the power of AI, it could catalyze a rapid transformation across the energy and mobility sectors.”
Now that the breakthrough material has been identified, Microsoft and PNNL scientists will optimize and validate it further in lab conditions before exploring commercialization pathways. The teams are optimistic the material could enter the market within 2-3 years if testing and scale-up goes smoothly.
In parallel, the partners will continue leveraging cloud computing, AI and supercomputing powerhouses to accelerate discovery across scientific domains like climate resiliency, quantum information systems, data storage tech and more over the 3-year collaboration.
“This first exciting result is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of inventing new solutions for global challenges using the power of sustained tech breakthroughs,” said Dr. Jagjit Nanda speaking at a tech conference. “With advanced computing capabilities getting better by the year coupled with human ingenuity, the sky’s the limit to drive innovations faster than ever before.”
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