Graphite Aluminum Batteries
The Advance We’ve Been Waiting For?
Fast charging long life batteries for cell phones, portable computers, electric cars & even solar power units have long been desired. Consumer products have become so sophisticated that even lithium batteries are now too limiting & their safety & environmental friendliness for disposal are of concern. The graphite aluminum battery may fix all that.
A recent announcement by researchers at Stanford University shows the promise of a revolutionary leap forward with materials that are cheap & plentiful. See Nature for the complete article (user privileges required for full access).
The Stanford report says that a battery based on graphite-aluminum may offer super fast charging, a huge number of recharge cycles & would be relatively safe to dispose of. A lot still needs to be done to commercialize this work but there are some simple materials available that will allow the curious to do some basic studies of their own.
Most chemistry & physics teachers are familiar with lemon or potato batteries such as the copper & zinc electrode strips shown with alligator clips below. This combination produces enough current & voltage to run small lights & electric motors.
A very simple reproduction of the Stanford experiments can be done with our carbon (graphite) & aluminum electrodes as shown below.
We tried a side by side comparison of the copper zinc electrode battery setup with the graphite aluminum ones. In place of lemons, we used test tubes filled with water & citric acid.
The copper zinc combination produced about 900mV while carbon-aluminum produced roughly 600mV. This test tube setup can also use vinegar instead of citric acid. What’s different with the Stanford work is that they used a salt solution as the electrolyte & of course this test tube set up can do that it too although we didn’t try it yet.
Two groups of test tubes with rack as seen below, were connected such that 2 “cells” are in series & the other two are in parallel. This set up produces different voltage & current values. You can connect many such cells to generate even higher voltages & currents.
We will test variations of this simple design further ourselves but in the meantime there are lots of potential experiments for home or high school study & science fair. Let us know what you think.