Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists spark new interest in the century-old Edison battery

Date:
June 26, 2012
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
Scientists have dramatically improved the performance of Thomas Edison's nickel-iron battery. The enhanced device could be used in electric vehicles, much as Edison originally envisioned.

Stanford scientists have developed an ultrafast Edison battery by growing iron oxide crystals on graphene sheets and nickel hydroxide crystals on multi-walled carbon nanotubes.
Credit: Hialiang Wang, Stanford University

Stanford University scientists have breathed new life into the nickel-iron battery, a rechargeable technology developed by Thomas Edison more than a century ago.

Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

"The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks," said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. "A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow."

Now, Dai and his Stanford colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

"We have increased the charging and discharging rate by nearly 1,000 times," said Stanford graduate student Hailiang Wang, lead author of the study. "We've made it really fast."

The high-performance, low-cost battery could some day be used to help power electric vehicles, much as Edison originally intended, Dai said. "Hopefully we can give the nickel-iron battery a new life," he added.

Electric vehicles

Edison, an early advocate of all-electric vehicles, began marketing the nickel-iron battery around 1900. It was used in electric cars until about 1920. The battery's long life and reliability made it a popular backup power source for railroads, mines and other industries until the mid-20th century.

Edison created the nickel-iron battery as an inexpensive alternative to corrosive lead-acid batteries. Its basic design consists of two electrodes -- a cathode made of nickel and an anode made of iron -- bathed in an alkaline solution. "Importantly, both nickel and iron are abundant elements on Earth and relatively nontoxic," Dai noted.

Carbon has long been used to enhance electrical conductivity in electrodes. To improve the Edison battery's performance, the Stanford team used graphene -- nanosized sheets of carbon that are only one-atom thick -- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, each consisting of about 10 concentric graphene sheets rolled together.

"In conventional electrodes, people randomly mix iron and nickel materials with conductive carbon," Wang explained. "Instead, we grew nanocrystals of iron oxide onto graphene, and nanocrystals of nickel hydroxide onto carbon nanotubes."

This technique produced strong chemical bonding between the metal particles and the carbon nanomaterials, which had a dramatic effect on performance. "Coupling the nickel and iron particles to the carbon substrate allows electrical charges to move quickly between the electrodes and the outside circuit," Dai said. "The result is an ultrafast version of the nickel-iron battery that's capable of charging and discharging in seconds."

Future applications

The 1-volt prototype battery developed in Dai's lab has just enough power to operate a flashlight. The researchers' goal is to make a bigger battery that could be used for the electrical grid or transportation.

Most electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, run on lithium-ion batteries, which can store a lot of energy but typically take hours to charge. "Our battery probably won't be able to power an electric car by itself, because the energy density is not ideal," Wang said. "But it could assist lithium-ion batteries by giving them a real power boost for faster acceleration and regenerative braking."

The enhanced Edison battery might be especially useful in emergency situations, Dai added. "There may be applications for the military, for example, where you have to charge something very quickly," he said.

"It's definitely scalable," Wang said. "Nickel, iron and carbon are relatively inexpensive. And the electrolyte is just water with potassium hydroxide, which is also very cheap and safe. It won't blow up in a car."

The prototype battery has one key drawback -- the ability to hold a charge over time. "It doesn't have the charge-discharge cycling stability that we would like," Dai said. "Right now it decays by about 20 percent over 800 cycles. That's about the same as a lithium-ion battery. But our battery is really fast, so we'd be using it more often. Ideally, we don't want it to decay at all.

"The use of strongly coupled nanomaterials represents a very exciting approach to making electrodes," he said. "It's different from traditional methods, where you simply mix materials together. I think Thomas Edison would be happy to see this progress."

Other co-authors of the study are postdoctoral scholars Yongye Liang and Yanguang Li, graduate student Ming Gong, and undergraduates Wesley Chang and Tyler Mefford of Stanford; Jigang Zhou, Jian Wang and Tom Regier of Canadian Light Source, Inc.; and Fei Wei of Tsinghua University.

This work was supported by Intel; a Stinehart/Reed Award from the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford; and a Stanford graduate fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University. The original article was written by Mark Shwartz, Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hailiang Wang, Yongye Liang, Ming Gong, Yanguang Li, Wesley Chang, Tyler Mefford, Jigang Zhou, Jian Wang, Tom Regier, Fei Wei, Hongjie Dai. An ultrafast nickel–iron battery from strongly coupled inorganic nanoparticle/nanocarbon hybrid materials. Nature Communications, 2012; 3: 917 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1921

Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Scientists spark new interest in the century-old Edison battery." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120626114316.htm>.
Stanford University. (2012, June 26). Scientists spark new interest in the century-old Edison battery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120626114316.htm
Stanford University. "Scientists spark new interest in the century-old Edison battery." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120626114316.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) MIT developed a robot modeled after a cheetah. It can run up to speeds of 10 mph, though researchers estimate it will eventually reach 30 mph. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) Automobile manufacturer Local Motors created a drivable electric car using a 3-D printer. Printing the body only took 44 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Refurbished New York Subway Tunnel Unveiled After Sandy Damage

Refurbished New York Subway Tunnel Unveiled After Sandy Damage

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 15, 2014) New York officials unveil subway tunnels that were refurbished after Superstorm Sandy. Nathan Frandino reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins