By developing batteries that can store solar energy,
Funeka Nkosi is doing her bit to tackle the energy issue in South Africa.
Nkosi, 27, a PhD student who is originally from Katlehong, is studying towards becoming a material scientist.
Material scientists study the structures and properties of various materials such as metals,
alloys, ceramics, semiconductors and polymers to develop new products and enhance existing ones.
The discipline is a hybrid of Biology, Chemistry, Physics and engineering Lighting South.
Nkosi is part of the electrochemical energy storage technology group situated at the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR).
The group is researching lithium-ion batteries. “Lithium-ion batteries are used in cellphones, laptops, cameras and other portable electronic gadgets.
These batteries are also used in electric cars such as the Tesla, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.” They can also be used to store energy from the sun.
Research in South Africa into these batteries is still in the lab stage and studies such as the one Nkosi is taking part in hope to enhance their performance.
She explains that lithium-ion batteries lose their ability to store energy after time,
citing as an example cellphones which have a longer battery life when new than when slighter older.
”One of the ways to help solve this is to improve the performance of the battery materials which are found inside the lithium-ion battery.”
She explains that inside the lithium-ion battery is a positive terminal and negative terminal separated by an electrolyte.
The material of the positive terminal is called the cathode and the material for the negative terminal is called the anode.
“In my PhD, I am looking at making and improving manganese-based cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.
We chose manganese-based cathode materials because South Africa is one of the world’s major manganese exporters and has the biggest manganese ore reserve in the world.
“Also, manganese-based cathode materials perform better,” she says, explaining that lithium manganese dioxide, Lighting South
a cathode material that was discovered at the CSIR in the 1980s, is now used in electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf.
Interest sparked Nkosi said her interest in lithium-ion batteries started while doing vacation work at the CSIR as an undergraduate.
“I became interested in material science at the time, because of the realisation that with one material, you can do a lot of things.”
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