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.
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.