Homemade Batteries From The World’s Junkyards

Batteries from junkyards
research team at junkyard Cary Pint, right, Andrew Westover and Nitin Muralidharan, who is holding the prototype junkyard battery they created in his left hand. He and Westover are holding bottles of the common household chemicals used in the process. (Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt University)

More Than Homemade Batteries.

Around the world, refuse from our society has been piling up in junkyards for decades. Everything from plastic, metal, chemicals and biodegrables. At some point we may need some of resources that have previousy been thrown away.

There is a limit to the minerals and metals that the earth can provide and so we need to start to think of things as reuse in what has been described as a circular economy.

In this video a team of researchers has dug into the world’s garbage piles to see if we can help solve the energy storage challenge. Here is what happened.

“Imagine that the tons of metal waste discarded every year could be used to provide energy storage for the renewable energy grid of the future, instead of becoming a burden for waste processing plants and the environment,” said Cary Pint, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University.

To make such a future possible, Pint headed a research team that used scraps of steel and brass which are two of the most commonly discarded materials to create the world’s first steel-brass battery that can store energy at levels comparable to lead-acid batteries while charging and discharging at rates comparable to ultra-fast charging supercapacitors.

The research team, which consists of graduates and undergraduates in Vanderbilt’s interdisciplinary materials science program and department of mechanical engineering, describe this achievement in a paper titled “From the Junkyard to the Power Grid: Ambient Processing of Scrap Metals into Nanostructured Electrodes for Ultrafast Rechargeable Batteries” published online this week in the journal ACS Energy Letters.

High Performance Homemade Batteries.

The secret to unlocking this performance is anodization, a common chemical treatment used to give aluminum a durable and decorative finish. When scraps of steel and brass are anodized using a common household chemical and residential electrical current, the researchers found that the metal surfaces are restructured into nanometer-sized networks of metal oxide that can store and release energy when reacting with a water-based liquid electrolyte.

The team determined that these nanometer domains explain the fast charging behavior that they observed, as well as the battery’s exceptional stability. They tested it for 5,000 consecutive charging cycles or the equivalent of over 13 years of daily charging and discharging and found that it retained more than 90 percent of its capacity.

About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.

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