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Aluminium can improve battery sustainability

electric car

In the second part of a short series on batteries, we look at research which could deliver a more environmentally friendly power source.

12 February 2020

Muriel Cozier
In the second part of the series on batteries, we look at research which could deliver a more sustainable battery.

Aluminium metal anode batteries could hold promise as an environmentally friendly and sustainable replacement for the current lithium battery technology. Among aluminium’s benefits are its abundance, it is the third most plentiful element the Earth’s crust.  In addition, there already exists an established industry for aluminium’s manufacture and recycling. The metal also has both high theoretical volumetric and gravimetric capacities.

To date aluminium anode batteries have not moved into commercial use, mainly because using graphite as a cathode leads to a battery with an energy content which is too low to be useful. However, a research group from France, Sweden, Slovenia have published work where they have replaced the graphite with an organic, nanostructured cathode made of anthroquinone. Researchers have found that the aluminium-anthroquinone cathode cell almost doubled the energy density compared with the aluminium-graphite battery. In addition, pairing aluminium with an organic cathode holds promise not only for its efficiency but also sustainability, as the feedstock has a low environmental footprint.

Following several investigations, the research team concluded that combining aluminium metal foil and an organic active material, anthroquinone, a proof-of-concept cell for an aluminium battery has been demonstrated. While operating at rather low average discharge voltage of 1.1V, this is still around 300mV higher than expected and due to the interaction of the anthroquinone carbonyl groups with aluminium chloride species, an energy density some 38% higher is achieved. This is promising for future research and development of aluminium as well as other metal-organic batteries.

Journal of Energy Storage Materials DOI:10.1016/j.ensm.2019.07.033

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