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Oregon State receives $3M from U.S. Dept. of Energy to explore a more sustainable battery

By Steve Lundeberg

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $3 million to an Oregon State University College of Science researcher to lead the development of a new, high-energy-density battery that does not rely on rare elements.

As more and more lithium-ion batteries are manufactured to electrify the transportation sector, global demand for the nickel and cobalt necessary for the batteries’ cathodes has soared, said Xiulei “David” Ji, professor of chemistry at Oregon State.

“It is predicted that there will be shortages of both elements in a matter of just decades, which means there is a pressing need to invent an alternative rechargeable battery chemistry that does not involve rare elements and potentially provides a higher energy density as well,” said Ji, who will lead a team of researchers from OSU, Howard University, the University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University.

Diagram of batteries
The figure shows that copper can serve as an electrode for hosting anions in reversible battery reactions. (Image provided by Xiulei "David" Ji, OSU College of Science).

There are many different types of batteries, but they all work the same basic way and contain the same basic components: Two electrodes – the anode, from which electrons flow out into an external circuit, and the cathode, which acquires electrons from the external circuit – and the electrolyte, the chemical medium that separates the electrodes and allows the flow of ions between them.

In lithium-ion batteries and other cation battery chemistries such as sodium-ion, magnesium-ion and zinc-ion, Ji explains, the working ions are the cations; a cation is an atom or a molecule that is missing one or more electrons and is positively charged.

An anion, which can also be used as the working ion in batteries, is an atom or molecule that has one or more extra electrons and is negatively charged.

Read the full story here.