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"Energy independence has to be our nation's first and highest priority. We must be determined to achieve this within the next 25 years i.e. by the year 2030." – Abdul Kalam, 2005

Thursday, 2 August 2012

High-Performance Air-Breathing Batteries - New Technology

Sri Narayan (above), professor of chemistry at USC
                   As California moves toward more renewable energy, solar- and wind-power plants will need an effective way of storing large amounts of energy for use during clouding and calm days.

            The rechargeable and eco-friendly battery uses the chemical energy generated by the oxidation of iron plates that are exposed to the oxygen in the air—a process similar to rusting.

        Iron and Air are both available in abundance and are being used to develop batteries for a long time. The oxidation of iron produces chemical energy that is used to make eco-friendly batteries, but sadly, they suffer from a problem of inefficiency because of hydrolysis (i.e. hydrogen generation due to chemical reaction) that consumes half of the battery’s energy. Addressing the issue at hand, Dr. Sri Narayan, professor of chemistry at University of Southern California (USC), and his team has developed batteries that bring this energy loss down to mere 4 percent.

      The solution was to remove hydrogen generation by adding very small amount of ‘bismuth sulfide’ into the battery, which in turn led to the increase in efficiency by 10 times over the previous batteries. The team, which has contributors from USC and Andrew Kindler of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, is now working on storing more energy in the batteries using using lesser material. They are backed for research funds by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, an arm of the US Department of Energy.

     Traditionally, utilities store power by pumping water uphill into reservoirs, which can then release the water downhill to spin electricity-generating turbines as needed. This method is not always practical or even feasible in drought-ridden California, where water resources are already in high demand and open reservoirs can suffer significant losses due to evaporation, Narayan says.

Batteries have typically not been a viable solution for utilities. Regular sealed batteries, like the AAs in your TV remote, are not rechargeable. Lithium-ion batteries used in cell phones and laptops, which are rechargeable, are at least 10 times as expensive as iron-air batteries.

Despite his success, Narayan’s work is still ongoing. His team is working to make the battery store more energy with less material.


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