By: Jackie Flynn, Stanford University

UreaA battery made with urea, commonly found in fertilizers and mammal urine, could provide a low-cost way of storing energy produced through solar power or other forms of renewable energy for consumption during off hours.

Developed by Stanford chemistry Professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell, the battery is nonflammable and contains electrodes made from abundant aluminum and graphite. Its electrolyte’s main ingredient, urea, is already industrially produced by the ton for plant fertilizers.

“So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance,” said Dai. “Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?”

In 2015, Dai’s lab was the first to make a rechargeable aluminum battery. This system charged in less than a minute and lasted thousands of charge-discharge cycles. The lab collaborated with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to power a motorbike with this older version, earning Dai’s group and ITRI a 2016 R&D 100 Award. However, that version of the battery had one major drawback: it involved an expensive electrolyte.

The newest version includes a urea-based electrolyte and is about 100 times cheaper than the 2015 model, with higher efficiency and a charging time of 45 minutes. It’s the first time urea has been used in a battery. According to Dai, the cost difference between the two batteries is “like night and day.” The team recently reported its work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(more…)

BatteryMost of today’s batteries are made up of two solid layers, separated by a liquid or gel electrolyte. But some researchers are beginning to move away from that traditional battery in favor of an all-solid-state battery, which some researchers believe could enhance battery energy density and safety. While there are many barriers to overcome when pursing a feasible all-solid-state battery, researchers from MIT believe they are headed in the right direction.

This from MIT:

For the first time, a team at MIT has probed the mechanical properties of a sulfide-based solid electrolyte material, to determine its mechanical performance when incorporated into batteries.

Read the full article.

“Batteries with components that are all solid are attractive options for performance and safety, but several challenges remain,” says Van Vliet, co-author of the paper. “[Today’s batteries are very efficient, but] the liquid electrolytes tend to be chemically unstable, and can even be flammable. So if the electrolyte was solid, it could be safer, as well as smaller and lighter.”

(more…)

ToyotaThe ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship kicked off in 2014, establishing a partnership between The Electrochemical Society and Toyota Research Institute of North America, aimed at funding young scholars pursuing innovative research in green energy technology.

The proposal deadline for the year’s fellowship is Jan. 31, 2017. Apply now!

While you put together your proposals, check out what Patrick Cappillino, one of the fellowship’s inaugural winners, says about his experience with the fellowship and the opportunities it presented.


The Electrochemical Society: Your proposed topic for the ECS Young Investigator Toyota Fellowship was “Mushroom-derived Natural Products as Flow Battery Electrolytes.” What inspired that work?

Patrick Cappillino: This research was inspired by a conversation with a colleague. I was relating the problem of redox instability in flow battery electrolytes. He told me his doctoral work had focused on an interesting molecule called Amavadin, produced by mushrooms, that was extremely stable and easy to make. The lightbulb really went off when we noticed that the starting material was the decomposition product of another flow battery electrolyte that has problems with instability.

(more…)

LI-SM3ECS is sponsoring the Lithium Sulfur Batteries: Mechanisms, Modelling and Materials (Li-SM3) 2017 Conference, taking place April 26-27 in London.

This year marks the second Li-SM3 conference, which will bring together top academics, scientists, and engineers from around the world to discuss lithium sulfur rechargeable batteries, among other related topics.

The conference will include four keynote speakers, including ECS member Ratnakumar Bugga, who will deliver a talk entitled “High Energy Density Lithium-Sulfur Batteries for NASA and DoD Applications.” Learn more about the speakers in the conference agenda.

There’s still time to submit a poster abstract. Deadline for posters is March 3.

Register for Li-SM3 today!

The Search for a Super Battery

From electric vehicles to grid storage for renewables, batteries are key components in many of tomorrow’s innovations. But current commercialized batteries face problems of price, efficiency, safety, and life-cycle. The television series, NOVA, is exploring many of those issues in the upcoming episode, “Search for the Super Battery.”

A preview of the episode by CBS News explores two innovators who are working toward the next big thing in battery technology.

(more…)

Battery fires led to the recall of nearly 2 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. In order to address this safety concern, researchers at Stanford University have identified 21 solid electrolytes for solid state batteries that could power the next-generation of electronics.

“Electrolytes shuttle lithium ions back and forth between the battery’s positive and negative electrodes,” says lead author of the study Austin Sendek, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, who worked with ECS member Yi Cui on this research. “Liquid electrolytes are cheap and conduct ions really well, but they can catch fire if the battery overheats or is short-circuited by puncturing.”

As demands from the electronics industry grow and consumers become more suspicious of lithium-ion technology, researchers have started focusing efforts on creating an all-solid-state battery.

“The main advantage of solid electrolytes is stability,” Sendek says. “Solids are far less likely to blow up or vaporize than organic solvents. They’re also much more rigid and would make the battery structurally stronger.”

Battery Research for Higher Voltages

BatteryLithium-ion batteries supply billions of portable devices with energy. While current Li-ion battery designs may be sufficient for applications such as smartphones and tablets, the rise of electric vehicles and power storage systems demands new battery technology with new electrode materials and electrolytes.

ECS student member Michael Metzger is looking to address that issue by developing a new battery test cell that can investigate anionic and cationic reactions separately.

Along with Benjamin Strehle, Sophie Slochenbach, and ECS Fellow Hubert A. Gasteiger, Metzger and company published their new findings in the Journal of The Elechemical Society in two open access papers.

(READ: “Origin of H2 Evolution in LIBs: H2O Reduction vs. Electrolyte Oxidation” and “Hydrolysis of Ethylene Carbonate with Water and Hydroxide under Battery Operating Conditions“)

“Manufacturers of rechargeable batteries are building on the proven lithium-ion technology, which has been deployed in mobile devices like laptops and cell phones for many years,” says Metzger, the 2016 recipient of ECS’s Herbert H. Uhlig Summer Fellowship. “However, the challenge of adapting this technology to the demands of electromobility and stationary electric power storage is not trivial.”

(more…)

SmartphoneRecent safety concerns with lithium-ion batteries exploding in devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone and hoverboards have many energy researchers looking into this phenomenon for a better understanding of how batteries function when stressed.

A new open access paper published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society provides some insight into these safety hazards associated with the Li-ion battery by taking a look inside the battery as it is overworked and overcharged.

Overcharging or overheating Li-ion batteries causes the materials inside to breakdown and produce bubbles of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases. As more of these gases are produced, they begin to buildup and cause the battery to swell. That swelling can lead to explosion.

“The battery can either pillow a small amount and keep operating, pillow a lot and cease operation, or keep generating gas and rupture the cell, which can be accompanied by an explosion or fire,” Toby Bond, co-author of the paper, told New Scientist.

(more…)

According to scientists at the University at Buffalo, a new glowing dye called BODIPY could be a central part of the liquid-based batteries that researchers are looking at to power our cars and homes.

BODIPY – or boron-dipyrromethene – is a fluorescent material that researchers believe could be an ideal material for stockpiling energy.

While the dye is fluorescent, that’s not what initially attracted scientists. According to new research, the dye has chemical properties that enables it to store electrons and participate in electron transfer. These two properties are critical for energy storage.

The new research shows that BODIPY-based batteries operate efficiently and display promising potential for longevity, functioning for more than 100 charge cycles.

“As the world becomes more reliant on alternative energy sources, one of the huge questions we have is, ‘How do we store energy?’ What happens when the sun goes down at night, or when the wind stops?” says lead researcher Timothy Cook, ECS member and assistant professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo. “All these energy sources are intermittent, so we need batteries that can store enough energy to power the average house.”

What’s Next for Batteries

BatteryTwenty-sixteen marked the 25th anniversary of the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery. Since Sony’s move to commercialize the technology in 1991, the clunky electronics that were made possible by the development of the transistor have become sleek, portable devices that play an integral role in our daily lives – thanks in large part to the Li-ion battery.

“There would be no electronic portable device revolution without the lithium-ion battery,” Robert Kostecki, past chair of ECS’s Battery Division and staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tells ECS.

Impact of Li-ion technology

Without Li-ion batteries, we wouldn’t have smartphones, tablets, or laptops – more so, electric vehicles would have a slim chance of competing in the transportation sector and dreams of large-scale energy storage for a renewable grid may be dashed. Without the Li-ion, there would be no Tesla. There would be no Apple. The landscape of Silicon Valley as we know it today would be vastly different.

While the battery may have hit the marketplace in the early ‘90s, pioneers such as Stanley Whittingham, Michael Thackeray, John Goodenough, and others began pushing the technology in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In its initial years, Li-ion battery technology boomed. As the field gained more interest from researchers after commercialization, developments started pouring in that doubled, or in some cases, tripled the amount of energy the battery was able to store. While progress continued over the years, the pace began to slow. Incremental advances at the fundamental level opened new paths for small, portable electronics, but have not answered demands for large-scale grid storage or an electric vehicle battery that will allow for a drive range of over 300 miles on a single charge.

(more…)