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Researchers Make a High-Performance Battery From Junkyard Scraps (vanderbilt.edu) 117

Science_afficionado writes: A team of engineers and materials scientists at Vanderbilt University have discovered how to make high-performance batteries using scraps of metal from the junkyard and common household chemicals. The researchers believe their innovation could provide the large amounts of economical electrical storage required by the grid to handle alternative energy sources and may ultimately allow homeowners to build their own batteries and disconnect entirely from the grid. Vanderbilt University News reports: "To make such a future possible, Pint headed a research team that used scraps of steel and brass -- 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. 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 -- the equivalent of over 13 years of daily charging and discharging -- and found that it retained more than 90 percent of its capacity."
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Researchers Make a High-Performance Battery From Junkyard Scraps

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  • If we find the Mark Wayne McGinnis scrapyard se would be set.

  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy.tpno-co@org> on Wednesday November 02, 2016 @11:47PM (#53203663) Homepage

    Those fuckers are always getting the latest and greatest stuff.

  • Not really. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2016 @11:53PM (#53203685)

    Maybe in 1985, when plutonium is available in every corner drug store, but in 2016, it's a little hard to come by.

  • by qubezz ( 520511 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @12:07AM (#53203725)
    It seems the "scrap" element was just added as "junk science" clickbait. The fact that one source of metals is from recycling - well that's what metal recycling does. It turns cars and computers into ingots and back into cars and computers. I can turn mining trails into nuclear weapons using science too, but I haven't discovered anything.
    • Re:So? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Razed By TV ( 730353 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @12:22AM (#53203763)
      I think they just used small pieces of scrap meal taken out of a scrap yard. Still not as exciting as headline entails, "researchers use scrap pieces that were already a good candidate for the job and probably not representative of whats just lying around"

      To make such a future possible, Pint headed a research team that used scraps of steel and brass - two of the most commonly discarded materials -

      The obtained scrap carbon steel (1010 steel) and brass sheets (Yellow brass, 67% Cu/33% Zn)

      So while the yard may be full of the materials, the majority probably needs to be refined in some way to be a particular form factor... brass sheets, and whatever shape the steel needs to be.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I found the paper. The electrodes are prepared with ammonium fluoride, argon, platinum/calomel, potassium hydroxide, and hydrochloric acid, not to mention the equipment (Metrohm Autolab controller and a Keithley sourcemeter).

        I suspect that we will be able to replicate the results with similar materials in short order.

        I found the paper on an Iranian server, of all places.

        • Re:So? (Score:4, Funny)

          by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:07AM (#53204927)

          "The electrodes are prepared with ammonium fluoride, argon, platinum/calomel, potassium hydroxide, and hydrochloric acid"

          "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."

          Common household chemical? Just checked. I'm flat out of Aluminum Fluoride and Platinum/Calomel. The Argon tank is empty too. I do, as it happens, I do have a bit of HCl in the garage. Can I substitute peanut butter and laundry detergent for the chemicals the experimenters used?

          • Re:So? (Score:4, Funny)

            by jimbolauski ( 882977 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:56AM (#53205173) Journal

            Common household chemical? Just checked. I'm flat out of Aluminum Fluoride and Platinum/Calomel. The Argon tank is empty too. I do, as it happens, I do have a bit of HCl in the garage. Can I substitute peanut butter and laundry detergent for the chemicals the experimenters used?

            Aluminum Fluoride -> cut up pieces of aluminum foil and put in mouthwash then heat in microwave for 2 minutes
            Platinum/Calomel -> put spark plugs in a twix and place over medium heat in a sauce pan.

            • Aluminum Fluoride -> cut up pieces of aluminum foil and put in mouthwash then heat in microwave for 2 minutes
              Platinum/Calomel -> put spark plugs in a twix and place over medium heat in a sauce pan.

              Someone's been reading The Anarchist's Cookbook recently.

          • by BKX ( 5066 )

            I'll grant you that the stuff you need isn't exactly household standard, It's all pretty easily available You don't actually need a platinum foil electrode or a calomel reference electrode; those are just what they used so they could figure out what was going on in the anodization process. You could just about anything, I believe, as the electrode just supplies the electricity, but doesn't interact chemically. I could be wrong, however, but that was my understanding based on my knowledge of these things and

            • I'm gonna have to do some checking to see how I'd get aluminum fluoride; I'd prefer not to store hydrogen-fluoride in my house; that's scary stuff. But beyond that, yeah, I'm also kinda tempted to try this one myself.
              • by BKX ( 5066 )

                I wouldn't want to be in the same building as hydrogen fluoride. Aluminum fluoride is available on eBay for $100/500g. While not exactly cheap, it's not exactly expensive or, apparently, hard to get. It's looks like something to try out more and more.

          • For anyone interested, Ammonium fluoride is a rust-remover and also used as a toilet-bowl cleaner. Argon is used by welders; I've got some chained up outside my basement. Potassium hydroxide is the historic form of lye. You could likely use the more commonly available sodium hydroxide, which is sold as drain-unclogging crystals. I happen to have some potassium hydroxide on hand because it's sometimes used in setting certain fabric dyes. hydrochloric acid, aka muriatic acid is used for etching cement prior t
            • (Oh wait, I can't read good. Aluminum fluoride....Yeah, I can't think of any good ways to make that with household stuff.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 03, 2016 @12:38AM (#53203793)

    The nickel iron battery in alkaline is an old, rugged battery chemistry. The nanostructuring the surface is new. The scrap bit seems like hype. Steel is easy to separate out by magnets, and copper is more expensive. So is nickel. I guess a cheaper substitute to nickel would also be an improvement.

    • by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @02:18AM (#53204049)

      NiFe batteries definitely have a place. Iron Edison batteries are used in stationary solar arrays because they are easy to take care of (built in watering system), and can handle a lot of cycles. Long life is crucial in this application. NiFe batteries also don't get damaged when their charge level is below 50%.

      However, NiFe batteries have a relatively low energy per volume density compared to lead-acid or lithium batteries. You wouldn't want to use NiFe batteries as electrical storage in your campervan, for example.

      • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @09:34AM (#53205045) Homepage

        they are easy to take care of

        To that I would add they can also take a lot of abuse unlike a lot of other batteries. They are easy to recondition which is good for those looking for a low total cost of ownership.

      • Iron Edison batteries are used in stationary solar arrays

        Are they? Seems a lot of marketing hype that only a few fools buy into. Sure they can possibly last 10X longer, but they cost 10X more, too.

        NiFe batteries also don't get damaged when their charge level is below 50%.

        Nor do lead-acid golf-cart batteries. Charge controllers which will prevent full discharge cost next to nothing, and spec'ing twice the capacity is still FAR cheaper than expensive special batteries.

        NiMH batteries could last much longer

        • by mlts ( 1038732 )

          Oddly enough, this topic goes back and forth on RV forums. Say someone needs 200 ampere-hours for a weekend. They can either buy two lead-acid batteries (each being about a C-note), or go LiFePO4, which can go up to 20x the price. Most people just stay with the lead-acid ones. However, it seems that more people are moving to LiFePO4 batteries because of the higher energy density, and the fact that you can draw them to almost empty without damaging them, even though they have a huge price premium.

          • it seems that more people are moving to LiFePO4 batteries because of the higher energy density, and the fact that you can draw them to almost empty without damaging them, even though they have a huge price premium.

            NiMH is probably as good or superior in every respect.

            • NiMH is probably as good or superior in every respect.

              No way, not at all. NiMHs can be damaged by excessive discharge, and they definitely don't have the capacity.

              • NiMHs can be damaged by excessive discharge, and they definitely don't have the capacity.

                You clearly know absolutely nothing of what you speak...

                NiMH has just slightly lower energy (watt-hours) per volume (not weight) of Li-Ion, and LiFePO4 is lower power so the gap is even closer.

                NiMH is absolutely NOT notably damaged by excessive discharge, nor does over-charging have significant effects. Li-Ion batteries, meanwhile, are SEVERELY affected by excessive discharge and over-charging, hence protected Li-Ion c

  • For comparison, current rechargeable lithium ion has anywhere from 100wh/kg almost 300wh/kg. Heck, even Ni-Cd is about 70wh/kg...

    It's neat that it's got a fast recharge capability, but the energy density is still too low to be practical for anything major in this day and age.

  • Patent? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @01:19AM (#53203915) Journal

    "We're forging new ground with this project, where a positive outcome is not commercialization, but instead a clear set of instructions that can be addressed to the general public. It's a completely new way of thinking about battery research, and it could bypass the barriers holding back innovation in grid scale energy storage," Pint said.

    So far, batteries have remained outside of this culture, but I believe we will see the day when residents will disconnect from the grid and produce their own batteries. That's the scale where battery technology began, and I think we will return there," Pint said.

    I think Pint is a bit self deluded if he thinks the university isn't going to patent the hell out of any possible development from this and wring every copper they can in licensing fees. In addition, I really can't see most people building their own batteries of sufficient storage capacity to power a home during peak usage time. Maybe an "Almost Ready to Charge(ARC)" kit that you would just have to add electrolyte to before using.

    • Capacity would be mostly a function of mass, wouldn't it? And discharge rate would be based largely on surface area. Both can be increased if you have enough cheap material, although putting the cathode and anode near each other would be more of a problem. If I could build a powerful battery from cheap scrap, I probably would. Although lots of people would make a combination battery-deathtrap, with a weak container and a nasty electrolyte.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      In addition, I really can't see most people building their own batteries of sufficient storage capacity to power a home during peak usage time. Maybe an "Almost Ready to Charge(ARC)" kit that you would just have to add electrolyte to before using.

      I can't see even that much. Messing with house wiring can be dangerous, both to the user and to people down the line (literally). Just plugging it in and letting it backfeed could get someone killed; there's a reason generators have to be installed with a cutoff switch to prevent that possibility.

      • Just plugging it in and letting it backfeed could get someone killed; there's a reason generators have to be installed with a cutoff switch to prevent that possibility.

        Generator, inlet, breaker box, junction box, main junction box. I sourced the generator from harbor freight for around $500 for 7kW (8.75kW peak), inlet from Amazon for ten bucks-ish, breaker box and dual 30A breaker from a yard sale, breaker was bad but I got another one from a yard sale which was good, junction box from local hardware store. Installed in the pump house. There's another dual 30A breaker at the other end of the home run, in the main junction box. Water pumps tie into the junction box and ha

    • Re:Patent? (Score:4, Informative)

      by rickyslashdot ( 2870609 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @02:40AM (#53204085)

      Here we go again - a 'private' institution garnering information and expertise from the PEOPLE's funds - NASA and other 'public' funded agencies - - - and NASA explicitly states that they release their information on a "NON-EXCLUSIVE" license - in other words, ANYBODY can ask for, and GET, authorization to use their research.
      WHY in the hell is this information locked up behind a pay-wall ?
      Best guess - money hungry, and with no morale compass.

      Here's the link, provided by ???? for the actual article and data ---> http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/... [acs.org]

      More info can be garnered from ---> http://pubs.acs.org/ [acs.org]

      and at ---> http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/... [acs.org]

      REALLY a pain to follow-up on, but worth the effort due to another /. contributor providing REAL information

    • I think Pint is a bit self deluded if he thinks the university isn't going to patent the hell out of any possible development from this and wring every copper they can in licensing fees.

      They most certainly will - and Pint will happily go along with it. When he talked about everyone using the tech, he was definitely also thinking about the royalties involved should that happen.

      This is how university research largely seems to function nowadays. Tax dollars pay for the research (an idea I am strongly behind), and then the researcher and the university turn around, lock it all up and reap the financial benefits (something that really needs to change, in my opinion).

      • If they don't patent everything possible, then somebody else does. Then they have to pay somebody else to use their own research! This has already been a problem. Don't forget the grants with deals which give a private party the rights.

        Say somebody adds something small onto your work, then charges you to use it and you have nothing to bargain with because you didn't patent anything - so the free loader is then charging you!

        Not that long ago we changed patents in the USA so you don't have to be the 1st inv

  • by synaptic ( 4599 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @04:15AM (#53204221) Homepage

    I'm curious how these cells perform in cold weather conditions.

    I use 12VDC lead-acid SLA batteries on a mountain top for a wireless repeater but those are like 0.05kw/kg and $280-300/ea. Getting heavy batteries up the mountain can be extremely challenging (think snowshoes uphill in 5-6ft of snow carrying a 100lb replacement battery). I'm also at the 49th parallel so winter peak solar is like 3 hours/day and you need a large buffer in case it is effectively zero hours of solar for days in a row while keeping your radios up 24/7.

    Something like this would be great for me since it's something like 1500x more energy dense by weight... That is, if it can survive cold weather, or with a heater it is still an effective alternative.

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday November 03, 2016 @07:11AM (#53204559) Homepage Journal

      Something like this would be great for me since it's something like 1500x more energy dense by weight... That is, if it can survive cold weather, or with a heater it is still an effective alternative.

      Put them in a vault in the ground, which is at a perpetual fifty degrees. (insulate the sides, but put the bottom in ground contact.) It will increase the cost of initial construction, but it may be worth it.

    • The general rule of thumb is that chemical reaction speed halves every 10 degrees C. I am pretty sure every chemical battery will have poor cold weather characteristics.
      • by synaptic ( 4599 )

        Sure, but what kind of differences are there between battery chemistries at say 32F or 0F at different states of charge?

        I generally don't consider LiPos for cold-weather deployment, for instance. Though, maybe that's wrong to do.

    • This battery has lower energy density(20Whr/kg) than your current SLA's at (50Whr/kg)..ref [acs.org]

      The claim of room temperature processing is also somewhat misleading.. They included an annealing step at 350C under argon atmosphere for 1 hr for processing the iron oxide nanorods.

      No mention of charge efficiency, should be bettery than the 60 to 70% for SLA's, (note: Lithium ion charge efff is ~95-98%)..

      • by synaptic ( 4599 )

        Yeah, I seem to be getting tripped up on the difference between gravimetric energy density and power density.

        The abstract says an "energy density up to 20 Wh/kg, power density up to 20 kW/kg".

        Do you have any suggestions on relating that power density quantity to other battery types?

        I get 2-3kWh out of my 90lb 155Ah 12VDC AGM/SLA batteries sipping at a 60hr rate. But that battery is about 41kg, so what do they mean by 20 kW/kg?
        Shouldn't I get 41kg/battery * 20kW/kg = 1800kW/battery? Reducing that to 1.8MW

  • by ctrl-alt-canc ( 977108 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @04:54AM (#53204289)
    ...is busy transforming your high performance battery (and smartphone) into junkyard scrap!
  • Somehow they forgot to tell us about the efficiency of the charge cycle. From their graphs seems like somewhere between 30-50%. If that is true then it redefines "high performance".
  • A team of engineers and materials scientists at Vanderbilt University have discovered how to make high-performance batteries using scraps of metal from the junkyard and common household chemicals. The researchers believe their innovation could provide the large amounts of economical electrical storage required by the grid to handle alternative energy sources and may ultimately allow homeowners to build their own batteries and disconnect entirely from the grid.

    There is an important word missing there. That word is "economical". Academic researchers tend to forget this word. If they cannot make an economical high performance battery then it is a meaningless exercise. There are lots of valuable materials in scrap yards. The reason we don't typically go to scrap yards to source materials as a first choice is because doing that is expensive compared to alternative supply streams (mining, etc). There are lots of activities that are technically feasible but econo

  • Ok, this is cool I want to try it. Does anyone have the details from the paper behind the pay wall?
    This would be fun to do with my daughter.

    • Annodizing aluminum results in a converted surface layer of Aluminum oxide. Just leaving a clean Aluminum plate out on your table causes a slow buildup of Aluminum oxide.

      To put an Iron oxide layer on steel, just put your steel plate on wet grass and leave it there until it is rusted to suit.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Annodizing aluminum results in a converted surface layer of Aluminum oxide. Just leaving a clean Aluminum plate out on your table causes a slow buildup of Aluminum oxide.

        To put an Iron oxide layer on steel, just put your steel plate on wet grass and leave it there until it is rusted to suit.

        The oxidation of Aluminum is practically instantaneous - and it's hard. Oxidation of iron happens much slower, and it's very soft and flakes off, exposing more iron for oxidation.

        Aluminum oxide does not flake off, which

        • The oxidation of Aluminum is practically instantaneous

          It isn't. It takes some three days for the oxide layer to be fully formed. That's why it's possible to remove the anodized layer and then weld. But you do it either mechanically or with KOH, and the electrolyte in this battery is apparently based on KOH, which is one reason why neither electrode in this battery is made of anodized aluminum.

      • The article says the trick to this battery is to anodize the components in a 'household chemical' but it doesn't say which one. They type and strength of the oxide formed would of coarse be quite different depending on which chemical. If I'm not mistaken.

        The definition of anodize you used seems to be consistent on the internet but ammonization can be done with a specific chemical. I just want to know which one. Normally you would get iron oxide, but you might not if the metal was immersed in something e

  • Didn't the Professor do this on Gilligan's Island? Using a couple coconuts and some extra parts left over from a NASA space probe?
  • They tested it for 5,000 consecutive charging cycles -- the equivalent of over 13 years of daily charging and discharging -- and found that it retained more than 90 percent of its capacity."

    That assumes you only charge once per day. My phone gets charged at least twice a day and frequently more often than that.

    I'm not saying I'm not impressed - but I think equating 5000 charge cycles to 13 years because 5000/365=13.7(ish) is a bit of a stretch!

    I suppose it depends on what sort of batteries they might buil

  • I have a 24V 10Ah 10C Lithium battery. Sold as multicopter battery. It weighs about a kg. (1200g IIRC, but lets round that to make the math easier).

    100A*24V = 2.4kW. That's 8 times worse than the 20kW/kg for the metal scraps battery. As the power density is important for flying things, this would be great for flying.....

    As to the energy densigty, I have 24V * 10Ah = 240Wh in about a kg. They have only 20Wh/kg. They are worse than my battery by a factor of 12....

    Somthing fishy here.

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