In the labs: Batteries that spray on and can grow


Battery breakthroughs are harder to deliver than a number one pop single, but we still want to chronicle some of the bleeding edge research that could one day be promising. Here’s two projects we’ve read about recently that sound intriguing out of Rice University, in Houston and Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, as well as the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory out of the Pacific Northwest National Lab.

Spray-on battery:

Scientific American reports on researchers that have developed a spray-on, or paint-on process for batteries. The team, hailing from Rice University, and Catholic University of Louvain, were able to mix together liquid layers of a battery that could be painted or sprayed onto surfaces and could operate as a functioning battery and actually store energy.

The researchers painted on the battery mixture — it comes in layers — onto glass, a flexible thin film, ceramic bathroom tiles,  stainless steel and the side of a beer stein, and all of the surfaces worked. Scientific American says: “Lithium cobalt oxide was used as the cathode, commercially available gel electrolytes as the separator, lithium titanium oxide as the anode, and copper as the negative current collector.”

Now if the technology could actually be moved out of the lab economically, if could be paired with solar, or with building facades or windows.

A battery that grows:

Researchers at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab have created a new type of anode that is made up of single silicon nanoparticles inside carbon shells — the architecture is “much like yolks inside eggs,” says the release from EMSL. A battery is made up of an anode on one side and a cathode on the other, with an electrolyte in between. For traditional lithium ion batteries, lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, creating a chemical reaction that allows electrons to be harvested along the way.

With the battery from EMSL the lithium ions travel from the cathode, through the electrolyte, and through the carbon shells, to the silicon, which can hold ten times more lithium ions than the carbon can. The battery leaves enough space inside the carbon shell for the silicon to swell and fill the shells as the battery charges.

Image courtesy of Leonardo Cassarani, and EMSL.

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