Beta and β″-alumina are remarkable solid electrolytes whose study has been a principal theme in the field of solid state ionics ever since Yao and Kummer first reported the exceptionally high conductivity of sodium β-alumina in 1967. The unusual properties of sodium β-alumina stimulated widespread interest in both the science and technology of high conductivity solid electrolytes. Since Yao and Kummer's seminal work, many solid electrolytes have been explored, but interest in the β and β″-aluminas has endured, principally because of their virtually unique ability to undergo ion exchange in which the sodium ions are replaced by a wide variety of monovalent, divalent, and trivalent cations as well as various protonic species. The β and β″-aluminas thus are not single compounds, but a family of solid electrolytes with diverse properties and potential technological applications.
Kummer first pointed out the ion exchange properties of sodium β-alumina by showing that the sodium ions in the structure can be replaced by different monovalent cations, such as Li+, K+, as well as H(H2O)x+ and NH4+. More recent studies have shown that the ion exchange chemistry of sodium β″-alumina, is far richer than that of sodium β″-alumina. In fact, the sodium ion content of β″-alumina can be exchanged for virtually any +1, +2, or +3 cation in the periodic chart.