Battering the Battery Blues

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You’re driving in your car on the way to meet your family when your GPS battery dies and you’re stranded in the middle of Midwestern country.

You’re taking your final math exam and your TI-89 fades to gray while there are still fifty minutes left in the testing period.

You’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and the power goes out but your only flashlight is barely managing to flicker.

What’s a person in the 21st century to do?

Build better batteries, of course, say scientists at MIT who are currently working on developing a lighter battery. With energy to battery density three times larger than current densities, these batteries can be used to give machinery like electric cars an extra boost of power and correspondingly, more distance.

Whereas consumer-friendly batteries are lithium-ion, new batteries pose to be made of lithium-oxygen, also referred to as lithium-air batteries. Rather than heavier metals, they use carbon electrodes and air flow to create power.

Yi-Chun Lu, a doctoral student at MIT, leads the research charge looking at different possible catalysts for these lithium-oxygen batteries. The catalysts are what allow the reaction in the battery to take place and produce power. His group found that using gold or platinum as a catalyst for the batteries produced much more activity and efficiency than the aforementioned carbon electrodes. This could further increase the energy density of the battery.

The current setback is the charging and discharging of the batteries. Some materials will not tolerate more than just a few juices. Others produce compounds whose toxicity has not yet been determined and could be potentially harmful to consumers.

Are there other downsides? Well, with new, more energy-dense batteries, the famously tireless Energizer Bunny looks as though he may never get a break.

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