A research team led by Professor Thomas Nann, of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology at Victoria University in New Zealand, has created a new electrolyte – one of several key parts in a battery which acts as a conductor for electricity. The team has tested their electrolyte with a standard graphite-based battery, with plans to adapt the electrolyte so it can be used in batteries that use better performing materials in the future.
“This electrolyte will make aluminum batteries cheaper and easier to produce,” said Nann. “It is more affordable than the ionic liquids currently used in aluminum batteries, and it is also more sustainable, as our electrolyte can be made from plants.”
Batteries are currently made out of lithium and cobalt, but Nann states that problems with these materials are quickly becoming apparent.
“Lithium and cobalt are potentially dangerous substances,” Nann said. “Damage to batteries containing these substances can make them explode. They are also toxic, leading to several deaths every year from children swallowing these batteries. Nor are they easily recyclable, and we are running low on available sources of the raw materials. If we do not find alternate sources of lithium and cobalt, we will eventually run out of the resources we currently use to make batteries.”
Nann’s research has the overall goal of creating better battery alternatives. They are investigating aluminum which – unlike lithium and cobalt – is safer to use as it is non-toxic and not at risk of exploding, is recyclable, and is the most abundant metal on Earth.
“This new electrolyte is just another step towards improving aluminum battery technology and making it suitable for commercial use,” stated Nann.