The researchers chose to use a water-based electrolyte, which Wessells described as "basically free compared to the cost of an organic electrolyte" such as is used in lithium ion batteries. They made the battery electric materials from readily available precursors such as iron, copper, carbon and nitrogen all of which are extremely inexpensive compared with lithium.
The sole significant limitation to the new electrode is that its chemical properties cause it to be usable only as a high voltage electrode. But every battery needs two electrodes a high voltage cathode and a low voltage anode in order to create the voltage difference that produces electricity. The researchers need to find another material to use for the anode before they can build an actual battery.
But Cui said they have already been investigating various materials for an anode and have some promising candidates.
Even though they haven't constructed a full battery yet, the performance of the new electrode is so superior to any other existing battery electrode that Robert Huggins, an emeritus professor of materials science and engineering who worked on the project, said the electrode "leads to a promising electrochemical solution to the extremely important problem of the large number of sharp drop-offs in the output of wind and solar systems" that result from events as simple and commonplace as a cloud passing over a solar farm.
Cui and Wessells noted that other electrode materials have been developed that show tremendous promise in laboratory testing but would be difficult to produce commercially. That should not be a problem with their electrode.
Wessells has been able to readily synthesize the electrode material in gram quantities in the lab. He said the process should easily be scaled up to commercial levels of production.
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|