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Welcome! Today, we’ll be discussing an exciting development in the world of battery technology. Scientists from Texas A&M University have been hard at work researching metal-free, water-based battery electrodes. And their findings have been groundbreaking!
So how do these water-based batteries actually work? Well, in their recently published paper in Nature Materials, the scientists describe how the batteries consist of a cathode (which is the negatively charged electrode), an anode (which is the positively charged electrode), and an electrolyte (which is like the "middleman" between the two electrodes).
But here’s where things get interesting. In these water-based batteries, the cathodes and anodes are made from polymers that can actually store energy. And the electrolyte is made up of water mixed with organic salts.
So, how does it all come together? The electrolyte transfers the ions (which are the charge-carrying particles) back and forth between the cathode and the anode. And, crucially, the electrolyte also plays a key role in energy storage through its interactions with the electrode.
As Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, a chemical engineering professor and co-author of the paper explains, "If an electrode swells too much during cycling, then it can’t conduct electrons very well, and you lose all the performance."
It’s been discovered that the choice of electrolyte can make a significant difference in the energy storage capacity of water-based batteries. In fact, there could be up to a 1,000% difference in energy storage capacity depending on the electrolyte choice due to swelling effects.
In their paper, the scientists explain that the electrodes used in these water-based batteries are made up of "redox-active non-conjugated radical polymers". These polymers have a high discharge voltage and fast redox kinetics, making them promising candidates for use in these batteries.
However, the energy storage mechanism of these polymers in an aqueous environment is still not fully understood. The reaction is complex and difficult to resolve due to the simultaneous transfer of electrons, ions, and water molecules. This highlights the need for further research in this area.
Despite this, the researchers believe that water-based batteries could be a game-changer for the future of energy storage. They have the potential to mitigate potential shortages of metals such as cobalt and lithium, which are currently used in traditional batteries. And, perhaps even more excitingly, they could eliminate the potential for battery fires altogether since these batteries are water-based.
As Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus explains, "There would be no battery fires anymore because it’s water-based." This could have significant implications for industries that rely heavily on batteries, such as electric vehicles and renewable energy systems.
It’s fascinating to consider the potential implications of this research on the future of energy storage. As Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus points out, if materials shortages are projected in the future, the price of lithium-ion batteries could skyrocket. This could make it difficult for many industries to continue relying on traditional batteries. However, if water-based batteries become a viable alternative, it could be a game-changer. The supply of materials needed to make these batteries is more stable, and they can be manufactured here in the United States.