Stanford researchers develop safe, effective aluminum battery

April 6, 2015, 7:39 p.m.

Stanford researchers have developed a new aluminum ion battery that could charge a phone in less than a minute. According to the researchers, the battery would be an affordable and safe alternative to current, commercial batteries.

The new aluminum battery minimizes the fire hazard associated with conventional lithium batteries and is also much more durable. While a typical lithium-ion battery can be recharged 1,000 times, the aluminum ion battery could endure as many as 7,500 cycles. The battery could take the place of traditional AA and AAA batteries, according to Yingpeng Wu, a chemistry postdoc.

“We wanted to develop something… with high capacity, high stability and safety,” said Ming Gong Ph.D. ’17. “We were trying to develop an aluminum battery that is cheap and that mostly operates on non-flammable electrolytes, so it’s very safe.”

Wu and Gong co-authored a report on the battery for the online edition of the journal Nature, along with chemistry professor Hongjie Dai and other graduate students. While scientists have long sought to develop an aluminum battery, this is the first time a stable and long-lasting version has been produced.

The Stanford researchers succeeded by using graphite for the battery’s cathode.

“People have tried different kinds of materials for the cathode,” Dai told Stanford Report. “We accidentally discovered that a simple solution is to use graphite, which is basically carbon. In our study, we identified a few types of graphite material that give us very good performance.”

“We used a very porous graphite as the cathode, so you can charge and discharge very quickly,” Gong explained.

In addition to working effectively, aluminum and graphite can both be obtained inexpensively, making the battery cheap to manufacture.

The researchers also touted the aluminum battery’s safety. Traditional lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in laptops and cell phones, can pose a fire hazard. However, the new battery doesn’t share that danger.

“The electrolyte… is basically a salt,” Gong said. “So it’s very safe, it’s non-flammable. If you drill a hole through that, nothing will happen. If you drill a hole in a magnesium battery, it will probably catch on fire.”

“All of the composite of the battery structure is very safe, because it’s made of aluminum, which is non-flammable, and the graphite is very stable too,” Wu said.

At this point, existing lithium-ion batteries still boast a greater voltage than the aluminum battery’s two volts. However, the researchers hope that future renditions of their battery could increase the voltage. Ultimately, Wu says the battery could be used in phones or even cars.

“I see this as a new battery in its early days,” Dai said. “It’s quite exciting.”


Contact Michael Gioia at mgioia2 ‘at’ and Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’

Michael Gioia was Managing Editor of Opinions from Vol. 250-251; he also previously led the News division. He is from Plano, Texas and studied History and Modern Languages at Stanford. When Michael is not working for The Daily, he can generally be found reading or drinking coffee.

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