Wax And Soap May Be Key to Better Rechargeable Batteries

Image via PNNL Press Release

Rechargable batteries are not all that great yet. In fact, in a question posted to Pablo Paster in our "Ask Pablo" series, the inquiry wasn't which rechargeable batteries to use, but "Why do rechargeable batteries suck?" But researchers are working on ways to improve them so they last longer per charge and have more recharge cycles in their lifespan, without increasing the cost or complexity of the batteries. And it seems, simple wax and soap could hold just the solution. Rechargeable batteries are usually fairly expensive, have a finite number of charges in their life cycle, and can hold a charge for shorter periods of time the older they are. Rechargeable batteries typically rely on an oxide of metal that usually ups their price -- mostly it is cobalt, nickel or manganese. Looking to solve both the issues of a need for better batteries that are cheaper, researchers looked to some fairly mundane materials.

Gizmag writes that the scientists are working on improving lithium manganese phosphate (LMP) batteries -- which theoretically can store some of the highest amounts of energy -- by reducing the resistance lithium and electrons experience during the charging cycle and therefore bumping up the amount of energy that can be stored.

"The researchers thought that paraffin wax, which is made up of long straight molecules that don't react with much, might help line things up, while soap, a surfactant called oleic acid, might help the growing crystals disperse evenly."

Turns out, they seem to be right. When they mixed electrode ingredients with the melted paraffin and oleic acid and raised the temperature, they got the reaction they wanted. Well, almost. When they charged the resulting mix over the course of a day and discharged it as slowly, it held more energy than any other blend created so far. The downside is that when discharged quickly -- such as within an hour as would be experienced when the batteries run with energy hungry gadgets -- the amount of charge the material could hold dropped down to levels comparable with other batteries.

The researchers plan to continue exploring this new method and materials mix, as well as other types of cheap materials to see what will be the perfect solution for rechargeable batteries.

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Tags: Concepts & Prototypes | Energy Efficiency