A normal fossil fuel car (using an internal combustion engine) only needs the battery to start the engine as well as run the air conditioning system and the car stereo. But the scene is quite different with electric cars. Batteries run everything. So when one tries to buy an electric car his/her prime concern is battery. Electric car owners are still grappling with the quality and reliability of the electric car battery. The main concern is how long the battery will last before it needs recharging. Researchers are continuously trying to devise new ways for the battery to last longer and recharge easily. Imagine your phones, mp3 players, computers and laptops running for days without recharging, or for that matter your car running far longer on one charge than it presently can with a tank or two of gas. Using air power, it might be possible in as early as 5 years.
Researchers at the Scotland’s University of St. Andrews are working on a project on the air-powered battery. If successful they will replace the lithium cobalt oxide electrode in the fuel cell. The “STAIR” (St. Andres Air) battery will be compatible on all renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and oxygen. Professor Peter Bruce who is leading his team for this project, is of the opinion, “Our target is to get a five to ten fold increase in storage capacity, which is beyond the horizon of current lithium batteries. The key is to use oxygen in the air as a re-agent, rather than carry the necessary chemicals around inside the battery.”
The major advantages will be the battery will be cheaper and lighter in weight too. Because they are not using expensive material but lightweight porous carbon. This carbon inhales oxygen from the atmosphere while the battery is discharging. We can see that there will be a regular round of charge and discharge. The oxygen will be sucked in through an exterior of the battery that is exposed to air. This oxygen will react within the pores of the carbon to discharge the battery. “Not only is this part of the process free, the carbon component is much cheaper than current technology,” Bruce says.
This research project was assigned on a four year basis. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of Great Britain (EPSRC) is sponsoring this project. The project has just completed two years but it has already achieved a battery lasting 8 times longer than a lithium cobalt oxide battery. The original aim was to achieve a battery with a 5 to 10 times more life than contemporary batteries. EPSRC explains, “By discharging batteries to provide electricity and recharging them when the wind blows or sun shines, renewables become a much more viable option.”
The air powered batteries might take five more years to be commercially produced. But they will be available for your cell phones, laptops and mp3 players first.