'Fool's gold battery' developed as alternative to lithium ion

The main advantage of the battery is the wide availability of its materials.
By Brooks Hays  |  Updated Nov. 13, 2015 at 2:57 PM
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ZURICH, Switzerland, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Lithium ion batteries power a wide range of electronics, including electric cars. But researchers say it's unlikely to be the battery of the future. Instead, look to the "fool's gold battery."

Lithium is a finite resource. And as more and more products rely on the element, the precious resource is likely to become prohibitively expensive.

Material scientists have been working hard to come up with cheaper alternatives to lithium batteries. The latest potential solution is the fool's gold battery, developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, or ETH Zurich.

The fool's gold battery is made up of iron, sulfur, sodium and magnesium, all elements available in abundance.

The anodes, which facilitate electricity flow into the battery, are made of magnesium. The electricity inside the battery flows through an electrolyte solution made of magnesium and sodium ions. Nanocrystals made of pyrite -- crystalline iron sulfide, also known as fool's gold -- serve as the cathode, taking electricity out of the battery.

In other words, the magnesium charges and the pyrite discharges -- the energy flow traveling via sodium ions.

The main advantage of the battery is the availability of its materials. It can be made cheaply and easily. But there are other pluses. Magnesium anodes don't catch on fire as easily as lithium does.

In lab tests, 40 discharging and charging cycles failed to put a dint in the battery's performance, suggesting it can withstand extended use without degrading.

Unfortunately, the battery can't facilitate as strong of an outflow of energy as lithium ion, making it unsuitable for things like electric cars, which need their batteries to deliver them a lot of power and fast. Instead, the battery could serve as a cheaper storage battery for large-scale electricity systems.

All power generation systems need a cheap and efficient way to store excess energy. The fool's gold batteries could be installed at nuclear power stations, for example.

"The battery's full potential has not been exhausted yet," researcher Maksym Kovalenko, a chemistry professor at ETH Zurich, said in a press release. "If we refine the electrolytes, we're bound to be able to increase the electric voltage of the sodium-magnesium hybrid cell even further and to extend its cycling life. We also look for investors willing to support research into such post-Li-ion technologies and bring them to the market."

Kovalenko and his colleagues detailed their invention in a new paper published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

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