A new type of air-fuelled battery could give up to ten times the energy storage of designs currently available. This step-change in capacity could pave the way for a new generation of electric cars, mobile phones and laptops. The research work, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is being led by researchers at the University of St Andrews with partners at Strathclyde and Newcastle.The new design has the potential to improve the performance of portable electronic products and give a major boost to the renewable energy industry. The batteries will enable a constant electrical output from sources such as wind or solar, which stop generating when the weather changes or night falls. The STAIR (St Andrews Air) cell should be cheaper than today’s rechargeables too. The new component is made of porous carbon, which is far less expensive than the lithium cobalt oxide it replaces. “The key is to use oxygen in the air as a re-agent, rather than carry the necessary chemicals around inside the battery,” says Bruce. The oxygen, which will be drawn in through a surface of the battery exposed to air, reacts within the pores of the carbon to discharge the battery. “Not only is this part of the process free, the carbon component is much cheaper than current technology,” says Bruce. He estimates that it will be at least five years before the STAIR cell is commercially available.
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