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Energy»New UK Battery Technology

»Monday, June 15,2009

Scientists in the UK are developing advanced new battery technology with an environmentally friendly edge to it.  The scientists – who are based at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews – recently demonstrated a prototype model of this battery, which draws on air to supply it with power.  In their estimation, it could potentially be ten times more energy efficient than the present generation of batteries.

Air-Powered Battery

In developing the air-powered battery, the Scottish scientists have been collaborating with scientists from two other educational institutions – Newcastle and Strathclyde universities. 

The venture began in 2007 and is set to last through to 2011, but already at this mid-way stage, the scientists have highlighted how their battery has eight times the endurance of a standard lithium cobalt oxide battery.  The initial aim was to produce a battery with ten times the staying power, meaning that the team is well on its way to achieving this.

Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, will provide the battery with a consistent feed of power. 

According to the head scientist involved, the University of St. Andrews’ Professor Peter Bruce, the battery’s vast performance increase comes via an extra component that takes the place of another chemical currently incorporated into battery designs.

Positive and Negative Electrodes

A regular lithium ion battery is comprised of positive and negative electrodes - manufactured out of lithium cobalt oxide and graphite, respectively – along with a lithium electrolyte.  When the battery is charged/discharged, lithium ions are passed rapidly between the positive and negative ends, a process which provides electrons to the object to which the battery is supplying power. 

The issues with this, according to Professor Bruce, are the bulk and weight factors associated with lithium cobalt oxide. “The major barrier to increasing the energy density of these batteries is the positive electrode”, he stated.

“Everyone wants to find a way to push up the amount of lithium stored there, which would raise the capacity.”

Consequently, his and his team’s prototype battery does not feature a lithium cobalt oxide electrode, but rather one made of carbon, which is much lighter.  Bruce himself compares the device to a battery-fuel cell hybrid, in the way that it draws on external reactants while simultaneously having reactants on the inside, too.

The prototype’s capacity-to-weight ratio is 4000 mAh (milliamp-hours) for every one gram – 800 per cent over that of a standard mobile phone battery.  For the future, Professor Bruce and the other scientists involved intend to develop the technology in something that could be used to power comparatively small electronic devices like mobile phones or iPods. 

However, on the larger scale, “...the technology could be just as important for electric and hybrid vehicles in future”, Bruce added.
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