In recent time, capturing solar energy has been becoming quite affordable, but the cost and technology to store it, given that its supply is irregular, has not kept pace. Now, scientists at Cornell University in the US have developed cheap and long-lasting batteries using aluminium, a low-cost alternative that is abundant and has a well developed industry that can match increased demand with adequate supplies. The latest announcement follows collaborations between Chinese and US universities which demonstrated fast-charging and stable aluminium batteries in early 2021.
A team of researchers led by Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering and the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, has been working to make solar energy storage affordable and safe by using low-cost aluminium to make rechargeable batteries. In their paper entitled ‘Regulating electrodeposition morphology in high-capacity aluminium and zinc battery anodes using interfacial metal–substrate bonding, published in ‘Nature Energy,’ the scientists demonstrate an aluminium battery with 99.5% reversibility that offers upto 10,000 error-free cycles, making it a much more environmentally sustainable alternative to the lithium-ion ones currently in use.
The paper’s lead author, Jingxu Zheng, said, “A very interesting feature of this battery is that only two elements are used for the anode and the cathode – aluminium and carbon – both of which are inexpensive and environmentally friendly.” Although aluminium is found in nature aplenty, integrating it into a battery’s electrodes can be challenging since it reacts chemically with the glass fibre separator- a physical division between the anode and the cathode- causing the battery to short circuit and fail. The scientists solved the problem by designing a substrate to separate anode and cathode. Aluminium anode still erodes, but not as quickly. Upon the battery being charged, aluminium reacts with the carbon structure and the two exchange electron pairs. This technique uses a nonplanar architecture to finely control the deposition of aluminium. “Basically we use a chemical driving force to promote a uniform deposition of aluminium into the pores of the architecture,” Zheng said. “The electrode is much thicker and it has much faster kinetics.”
This approach has been derived from the researchers’ previous work on zinc-based batteries and can be applied to other materials as well. “Although superficially different from our earlier innovations for stabilizing zinc and lithium metal electrodes in batteries, the principle is the same,” Archer said. The co-authors of the paper are: doctoral students Tian Tang and Yue Deng, master’s student Shuo Jin, postdoctoral researcher Qing Zhao, laboratory manager Jiefu Yin, Xiaotun Liu, Ph.D. ’20, as well as researchers from Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The research was carried out under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences Program, through the Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties, an Energy Frontiers Research Center, hosted at Stony Brook University.