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Recharge Your Batteries November 15, 2009

Posted by calvinus in Batteries, Energy, Physical Chemistry, Renewables.
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This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org Every so often, you come across an article that looks really interesting.  Interesting in a good way .  Often you get the chance to review manuscripts that are “interesting”, but this is not one of those.

I was actually looking for something else and in the process of re-establishing some order to the chaos, this Chemical Communications article popped up from the pile.  Renewable electrochemical systems, i.e., rechargeable batteries, have long undergone development and if I compare my first rechargeable batteries with the lifetime of the battery in the laptop I am using at the moment, the difference is night and day.  Having said that, such efficiencies may partly bedown to better power management.  The underlying technology is not that radically different.  As Jean-Marie Tarascon commented at a meeting at the Royal Society in London at the start of this year, rechargeable battery research has advanced at an almost glacial pace.  As such, we are still a long way off using batteries for heavy-duty use such as in transport.  Sure, there are cars such as the Tesla of the Chevy Volt that are battery powered, but there are still issues with the weight and safety (and cost!) of many rechargeable systems.  For example, 1 litre of petrol still has a higher energy capacity that the Li ion batteries that your laptop or mobile invariably use.[1]

Energy Capacity

Copyright of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Nothing beats petrol, litre for litre, that we can easily use.

Except, you will notice from the above image that there is something that has a higher energy capacity.  Stuart Licht and colleagues at MIT have developed an electrochemical system that is based on air and borides, in their particular case, vanadium boride.[1]

As Licht himself says in his article, air batteries are nothing new – Zn/air batteries were first reported in 1932.[2]  Nonetheless, it is only comparatively recently that air batteries have started to receive serious attention.  The work of STAIR springs to mind.  It stands to reason that if half of your battery “runs” on air, then your cost and weight drop – you do not have to carry around as much of the chemicals you might originally have required.

Licht’s work shows substantial promise.  He has developed a system with a higher capacity than petrol based on vanadium boride despite the fact that “basic physical chemical properties of VB2 are scarce.”  There is much scope for improvement on something which is already an excellent start.

Can we improve the vanadium boride?

Can we find a low-temperature/”easy” way of preparing vanadium boride?

Are there better materials?

We shall see.

ResearchBlogging.org [1] Licht, S., Wu, H., Yu, X., & Wang, Y. (2008). Renewable highest capacity VB2/air energy storage Chemical Communications (28) DOI: 10.1039/b807929c

[2] Kinoshita, K, Electrochemical Oxygen Technology, Wiley-Verlag VCH, Weinheim, Germany, 1992, pp. 259-260.

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