(Bloomberg Businessweek) — A material that gave a vibrant blue to the foaming breaks of the famous Japanese print The Great Wave off Kanagawa and instilled the same color in works by Picasso and Monet is being used today for an entirely different but equally creative task: keeping energy-hungry U.S. data centers running.
Prussian blue, the pigment developed by a Berlin color maker in the early 18th century, is a key component in batteries made with sodium rather than lithium, which are intended for industries other than electric vehicles.
“It’s been used as a pigment, as a dyestuff, and has been a consumer product for centuries,” says Colin Wessells, chief executive officer of Natron Energy Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., the battery maker behind the technology.
“It also turns out to be excellent at storing sodium ions,” he says, resulting in a battery with high power and long cycle life. Lithium-ion batteries have become ubiquitous in the past three decades, used in smartphones and electric vehicles—including automobiles from the likes of Tesla and Volkswagen, as well as buses from BYD—and to store renewable energy from solar or wind plants.
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