2 Comments »Posted on Wednesday 20 May 2009 at 11:15 pm by Jacob Aron
In Chemistry, Inventions & Technology, Yes, But When?

Everything from electric cars to mobile phones could soon be powered by air. A new type of battery promises ten times the energy storage of current designs by sucking in oxygen to recharge.

Research led by scientists at the University of St Andrews and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has resulted in new battery design that is both ligher and smaller than its predecessors – a definite plus for electric cars.

The STAIR (St Andrews Air) cell, designed with the help of partners in Strathclyde and Newcastle, uses porous carbon as a replacement for lithium cobalt oxide. This change of material, combined with a more compact size, means that the new batteries will be much cheaper.

The battery is charged as normal, but as its energy is drained oxygen from the air is drawn through its surface. Then, the oxygen reacts with the pores in the carbon to create more energy and recharge the draining battery.

Oxygen drawn from the air reacts within the porous carbon to release the electrical charge in this lithium-air battery.
Oxygen drawn from the air reacts within the porous carbon to release the electrical charge in this lithium-air battery.

Leading the four-year research project is Professor Peter Bruce of the St Andrews Chemistry Department:

“Our target is to get a five to ten fold increase in storage capacity, which is beyond the horizon of current lithium batteries. Our results so far are very encouraging and have far exceeded our expectations.

“The key is to use oxygen in the air as a re-agent, rather than carry the necessary chemicals around inside the battery.”

You won’t be running on air just yet though, as further investigation in to the chemical reaction of the battery is needed. The team hope to build a small STAIR cell prototype soon, with the intention to power small devices such as mobile phones or MP3 players.

  1. 2 Comments

  2. I saw an account of this STAIR cell in a short article in the BBC’s web service recently and was surprised to find that most accounts of it that I could find using Google were dated on or about May 20, which appears to be when the first press release was published. I would be grateful for you to provide further details if progress has been made and can be published. If the claims of eight- to ten-fold increases in capacity and a 30% reduction in cost can be realized, this is truly going to revolutionize the budding electric vehicle industry. Incidentally, I do not think it is quite correct to say, as you do, that the oxygen “recharges” the cell nor that it reacts with the pores in the carbon. This seems to be a slight misunderstanding or perhaps oversimplification of what is actually going on. Recharging is done in the usual way, by passing an electric current through the cell. The oxygen needed to react with the lithium (not the carbon) in this process is drawn from the air.

    By Roger Williams on Friday 25 September, 2009 at 4:10 am

  3. Sorry Roger, I’m afraid it is quite a while since I originally wrote this and I can’t remember much of the details. Perhaps you could get in contact with the lead researcher?


    Hope that helps!

    By Jacob Aron on Friday 25 September, 2009 at 9:14 am

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