Technology 3 min read

New Concept Makes Aluminum Batteries Environment-Friendly

Scientists replaced graphite in aluminum batteries with an organic nanostructured cathode to make them cheaper and more environment friendly.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

An international team of researchers has developed a new concept of aluminum batteries that could change everything. Aside from having twice the energy density as the previous version, the new concept could lead to cheaper and more environmentally friendly cells.

Today, we depend on lithiumion batteries to power our devices. Whether it’s our smartphone, laptop, or electric vehicle, lithium has become the primary ingredient for most cells.

Now here’s the problem.

Lithium’s price has tripled in the last couple of years. Compared with aluminum which cost about $2,220 per metric ton, the ultra-light metal costs a whopping $20,000 per metric ton.

So, it’s not surprising that researchers are looking to replace lithium batteries with aluminum. But even that endeavor comes with a separate issue.

Previous aluminum battery designs had an aluminum anode and graphite cathode. The problem is graphite provides an energy content that’s too low for the battery cell to be useful.

For this reason, aluminum batteries have never become quite as popular as lithium-ion batteries, even though they’re cheaper. But that’s about to change.

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden and the National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia have come up with a new concept of aluminum batteries that addresses this issue.

In a statement, professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers, Patrik Johansson said:

“The material costs and environmental impacts that we envisage from our new concept are much lower than what we see today… Additionally, our new battery concept has twice the energy density compared with the aluminum batteries that are’ state of the art’ today.”

Increasing the Energy Density of Aluminum Batteries

In their new concept, the researchers replaced graphite with an organic nanostructured cathode that’s made of anthraquinone – a carbon-based molecule.

The primary advantage of using this organic molecule as the cathode is that it enables the storage of positive charge-carriers from the electrolyte. And this results in a possible higher energy density in the battery.

Chalmers researcher, Niklas Lindah said:

“Because the new cathode material makes it possible to use a more appropriate charge-carrier, the batteries can make better usage of aluminum’s potential. Now, we are continuing the work by looking for an even better electrolyte. The current version contains chlorine – we want to get rid of that.”

At the moment, there are no commercially available aluminium batteries. So, the new concept raises an essential question: can aluminum batteries replace lithium-ion?

The researchers certainly hope so. They envision a future where aluminum becomes the main ingredient for powering devices, and lithium-ion batteries are only used if necessary.

But several obstacles stand between us and that future.

For one aluminum batteries are only half as energy-dense as their lithium counterparts. Also, further research is required to develop better electrolyte and charging mechanisms.

“Aluminum is in principle a significantly better charge carrier than lithium since it is multivalent. Furthermore, the batteries have the potential to be significantly less environmentally harmful,” says Johansson.

Read More: New Design Could Lead to Cheaper Lithium-ion Battery Production

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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