HYDERABAD: At a time when the Centre is pushing for electric vehicles, which are mostly powered by lithium batteries, eminent scientist and Bharat Ratna CNR Rao has suggested sodium or magnesium batteries to overcome shortage of the metal and not fall into the China trap.
“The real problem is there is no lithium in the world (running out of reserves),” 85-year-old Rao, Linus Pauling Research professor and honorary president of Bengaluru-based Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), said at Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) platinum jubilee lecture here on Monday.
IICT, one of the oldest national laboratories, had its origins in ‘Industrial Laboratory’, which was set up by the then Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, in 1920s. “Also, lithium-triggered fires are difficult to put off. A maverick Australian has created a football field-size lithium battery, enough to power a city. Suppose it burns, Australians will never be able to put off the fire. On the other hand, sodium burn is easy to put off,” he told TOI, while interacting with students at IICT.
“Sodium battery will be a reality soon,” he predicted.
Earlier, delivering the lecture on ‘Introduction to the Modern Periodic Table’, Prof Rao traced the journey of the periodic table from five (ancient) elements to the present, including the controversial Element 118, Oganesson, peppered with anecdotes from the lives of several greats, including Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev, Michael Faraday, G N Lewis and Linus Pauling.
Incidentally, 2019 is the 150th anniversary of Mendeleyev discovering the periodic system and has been proclaimed the ‘International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements’.
“Everybody has a lithium-cobalt battery. Where are the lithium reserves? Lithium comes from just one factory. The only place where cobalt is available is Congo…China has taken over Congo. Chinese have unbelievable foresight. Half of Africa is controlled by them (China) because of this kind of consideration. We (India) should have our own mines of cobalt,” he said.
He also said helium would become scarce soon and even recalled how it was discovered by Julus Janssen during a solar eclipse in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.
Prof Rao, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) director-general Shekhar C Mande and IICT director S Chandrasekhar felicitated past directors of the national laboratory on the occasion.
Later, interacting with the media, Prof Rao said China has become the biggest supplier of rare earths. “India should also tap the natural source available in Kerala,” he said.
To a query whether he foresaw any changes to the periodic table, Rao, a world-renowned authority on solid state and structural chemistry, said: “They are as perfect as Ramayan and Mahabharata.”
Ending his briefing, he said in a lighter vein, “We (chemists) live with poison…live forever.”