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Summer 2014 Blog - Rathin Bector

Rathin Bector is spending the summer at the National University of Singapore

July 28th, 2014

After a considerably long struggle, I had made it! It had looked uncertain for a while, due to visa complications caused by my Indian passport, but I had finally reached Singapore. Albeit in the middle of the night and without my baggage. The airline had failed to transfer my bags at the KL airport in time and I was thus compelled to spend two hours waiting for them at Changi Airport. However, this did not upset me in the slightest as I was at the best airport in the world. I strolled around the airport observing the several unique facilities including great restaurants (open throughout the night), a huge spa, a swimming pool and a multistory slide (you can Google it, I’m not making this up). Eventually, I just got dinner and started streaming the World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and Belgium.

At halftime, I finally received my bags and decided to hail a cab to NUS. Upon reaching my dorm room, I remembered that I was living in a non-AC room. Being from New Delhi, I was prepared to face the heat, but what I was not ready for was the extreme humidity. Unable to go to sleep in the sultry room, I decided to watch the second World Cup match that ended up going till penalties. By the time I slept it was 6 in the morning.

Fortunately, the next day was Sunday and I had no other work other than informing my host Professor, Dr. Palani Balaya, that I had arrived and scheduling a meeting with him. As he was away on a conference I ended up meeting my supervisor, PhD student Ashish Rudola (or Ash as he preferred to be referred as) instead. He appeared extremely busy at first as he worked in two labs and was deciding the topic of his final thesis. However, he took out the time to meet me and explain the general concept of sodium ion batteries and specifically what I would be doing during the course of the next seven weeks.

This relatively new and esoteric field of research in electrochemistry instantly fascinated me. Although these batteries did not have the same energy storage capacity as rechargeable Lithium ion batteries most famously being used by Tesla cars and all portable devices, they could potentially be a lot cheaper to produce due to the great abundance of Sodium compared to Lithium. This would make it viable to be used in eco-friendly all-electronic cars making them cheaper and more abundant in the market. The primary use of such batteries, however, would be in grid storage where the size and weight of batteries would not matter as much. This would have great implication on the greater use of intermittent renewables such as solar and wind energy.

I specifically would be working on a project that had greatly interested Ash for a while but one that he did not think he would have had the time to do with his already stressful schedule. It was directed at seeing what impact the choice of binder had on the performance of a battery. Most cathode and anode materials in present day batteries are present in powder form. Binders are materials that bind these powders and help adding them as a coating over a foil. Most electrochemists have conventionally used PVDF as a binder in Lithium ion batteries. However, Ash noticed that the use of an alternative binder called CMC derived from cellulose improved the performance of the battery tremendously, making it a better choice. He thus decided to give me the job of looking at other binders that could possibly further improve the performance of these batteries.

The fist few days were primarily spent in understanding the functioning of these batteries. Then I began researching current literature for other binders that could be used as alternatives. Having ordered them and waiting for there arrival, I have being working on testing different proportions of the binders already available.

Outside of work too, I have been enjoying my Singaporean expedition tremendously. I met some students from various British universities, such as Oxford and Imperial College London who are also participating in summer research at NUS. Unlike I, they had the luxury of having the first week off during which they travelled all around Singapore. I usually joined them in the evenings after work. One experience that definitely stood out was something called an Escape Room, an Asian fad that was fast becoming popular around world. In this peculiar game, we would be locked up in a room with a bunch of clues that would eventually help us find the way out. It was essentially a much milder version of the movie ‘Saw’. Largely, my Singaporean summer has gotten of to a great start and I have enjoyed myself tremendously!

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