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From Junkyard to Joules

Posted on November 16th, 2016 by in Chemical R&D

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Image by PiccoloNamek [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by the Baghdad Battery, a research team at Vanderbilt University have devised a novel method transforming common junkyard metals and household chemicals into batteries.

As reported on Vanderbilt University’s Research News website, an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers have successfully devised a way to use reclaimed scrap metals of brass and steel along with potassium hydroxide commonly found in laundry detergent to create rechargeable batteries. The new battery reportedly stores energy at levels comparable to the inexpensive lead-acid batteries used in automobiles or for backup power supplies in cell phone towers, hospitals, and high availability power systems. Additionally, the new battery benefits from charging rates comparable to ultra-fast charging supercapacitors.

Using two of the most commonly discarded metals – brass and steel – this innovative approach fosters local recovery of landfill materials and offers a simplified method for remote populations to assemble power storage systems.

“Imagine that the tons of metal waste discarded every year could be used to provide energy storage for the renewable energy grid of the future, instead of becoming a burden for waste processing plants and the environment,” said Cary Pint, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

Using a room temperature chemical process containing common materials, the goal was to produce a “recipe” that individuals or communities could follow.

“We’re forging new ground with this project, where a positive outcome is not commercialization, but instead a clear set of instructions that can be addressed to the general public. It’s a completely new way of thinking about battery research, and it could bypass the barriers holding back innovation in grid scale energy storage,” Pint said.

To better understand the electrochemistry of redox reactions at work in batteries, watch the following entertaining video:

Commercially available products and technologies such as batteries are typically refined over time through incremental improvements. Focusing on limitations or constraints in the status-quo, engineers and scientists can deliver greater efficiency, performance, and economy. However, incremental changes that push the envelope of materials can also risk failures such as those recently experienced by Samsung in their Galaxy Note lithium ion batteries. Thinking functionally or changing the ground rules can lead to breakthrough innovation opportunities like that experienced by the Vanderbilt University team.

Where have you drawn inspiration for your innovation process? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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