Super-fast charging, long-lasting and cheap – aluminium batteries could be the answer to our battery woes.

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New aluminium-ion battery from Stanford University (screen grab from YouTube video – credit: YouTube/Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy)

Scientists at Stanford University, in the US, have developed a new type of battery that offers a safe alternative to many lithium-ion and alkaline batteries in use today.

One major benefit is ultra fast-charging. As anyone with a smartphone knows, it can takes ages to charge up a lithium-ion battery. But the Stanford team reported “unprecedented charging times” of one minute with the aluminium prototype. Unlike lithium ion batteries that incorrectly stored or used, there’s also no risk of a fire hazard .

It could also be charged and discharged more than 7,500 times without any loss of capacity – compared to a typical lithium-ion battery , which lasts about 1,000 cycles.

The protoype is also flexible, so can be bent and is cheaper – opening the door to flexible devices.

How was the aluminium battery created?

The team accidentally discovered that graphite was the key to creating the new battery. It is made up of a negatively charged anode made of aluminium and a positively charged graphite cathode, along with an ionic liquid electrolyte inside a flexible polymer-coated pouch. The electrolyte is a salt at room temperature, so is safe.

“We have developed a rechargeable aluminium battery that may replace existing storage devices, such as alkaline batteries, which are bad for the environment, and lithium-ion batteries, which occasionally burst into flames,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford.

“Our new battery won’t catch fire, even if you drill through it.”

Exciting times

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As well as using in small electronic devices, Prof Dai said aluminium batteries could be used to store renewable energy in the electrical grid. More improvements are needed to match the voltage of lithium-ion batteries.

“Our battery produces about half the voltage of a typical lithium battery,” he said.

“But improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage and energy density.

“Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life.

“I see this as a new battery in its early days. It’s quite exciting.”

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