Developing environmentally friendly aqueous and metal-free batteries

Researchers at Texas A&M University are working to develop more sustainable and less volatile batteries that are aqueous, and metal-free.

Batteries are commonplace in contemporary life, powering everything from laptops to electric vehicles. However, they present safety and environment risks.

In a recent study published in Cell Reports Physical Science, scientists at Texas A&M University explored the components of water-based and metal-free batteries. This could reduce the flammability of batteries and decrease the quantity of metal elements used in production.

“This work enables the future design of metal-free aqueous batteries,” commented Dr Jodie Lutkenhaus, professor, and Axalta Coating Systems Chair in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M. “By going metal-free, we can address the pressing global demand for strategic metals used in batteries, and by going aqueous, we replace the flammable volatile electrolyte with water.”

Utilising a sensitive method of measurement known as electrochemical quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring, the team was able to establish how electrons, ions, and water transfer in the electrode as it is charged and discharged.

“With this information, we showed that enhanced electrode-water interactions lead to improved energy storage performance,” she said.

The team found that the energy storage capacity of aqueous metal-free batteries was lower than that of the standard Li-ion batteries, but nonetheless, this research could lead to more sustainable and stable batteries in the future.

The research is currently in its initial stages, but future research could lead to the opportunity for a variety of real-world applications. One significant potential is implantable batteries for medical devices.

“By using completely different materials, such as we do with polymers here, we remove metals from the picture completely,” she said. “My favourite aspect of this work is our ability to deeply characterise the molecular transport processes associated with this redox polymer. Only in the last few years have we been able to resolve such effects on this time and mass scale.”

Going forward, the researchers must identify more polymers that are compatible with the design: “Once we have that we can produce a high-performance, full-cell for practical use,” she added.

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