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Rust-Powered Battery

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 3, 2012

California is already friendly to renewable energy—the state has the largest installed solar power base in the nation.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Southern California, led by professor of chemistry Sri Narayan, has emerged with an air-breathing battery which harvests the energy generated through oxidation of iron plates exposed to the air, almost like rusting, to store energy at solar plants for unfriendly weather conditions.

These batteries show storage potential between 8 to 24 hours.

The common iron-air battery has been around for quite some time, but in a very inefficient form. Internal hydrolysis meant almost 50 percent of the battery’s energy is always being drained, which makes it a poor competitor, R&D Mag reports.

Narayan’s team has brought this drainage down to roughly 4 percent by adding trace quantities of bismuth-sulfide to retard the hydrolysis process.

California’s Renewable Energy Resources Act of 2011 demands that the state’s utilities generate at least 33 percent of all power within the state from renewable sources by 2020.

While that’s great for renewable power sources and development, it also means that solar power developers must confront the question of how to keep the energy flowing during cloudy or rainy days.

As of 2009, just over 11 percent came from renewable sources, with another 9 percent coming from hydroelectric facilities, according to R&D Mag.

But as California ramps up their renewable energy development, solar power will come under renewed focus.

Conventionally, batteries simply aren’t adequate for utility-scale operations. Small batteries are just not powerful enough, while lithium-ion rechargeable batteries represent enormous costs.

Narayan and his team may just have devised a viable solution, but further development remains.

Narayan and his team have already filed patents, which are pending, and they have received intimations of interest from both California state utilities and the federal government.

A research paper detailing the development is scheduled to appear in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society on July 20.

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