New energy storage catalysts

The double perovskite  has atoms of barium (green) and a lanthanide (purple) within a structure of cobalt (pink) and oxygen (red). Photo credit: MIT research team

The perovskite has atoms of barium (green) and lanthanide (purple) within a cobalt (pink) and oxygen (red) structure. Photo credit: MIT research team

They’re abundant, new to science and, say researchers at MIT, give the best ever performance in a reaction that is key to advanced fuel cells and lithium-air batteries. The materials are known as double perovskites and are a variant of minerals commonly found in the Earth’s crust.
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A catalyst for lithium-air batteries?

Lithium-air cells have massive potential, say scientists. With 10 times the energy storage potential of the batteries currently in widespread use, they represent one of the Holy Grails of energy storage for electric vehicles, and much more besides. The one major drawback in their development has been the catalyst. Until now, manufacture has been slow, complex and used very expensive metals, such as platinum.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory say they’ve potentially changed all that, reports Science Daily, with a new catalyst based on nitrogen-containing carbon nanotubes. What’s more, the lab has developed an ingenious method for synthesising the new catalyst, using readily available chemicals that allow preparation of the material in a single step.

Sodium-air batteries offer high-energy density

Lithium-air (or rather lithium-oxygen) batteries have been exciting researchers for a while, due to their potentially high energy density, which is much higher than that of lithium-ion cells, and on par with that of gasoline. There was only one – very big – problem: due to the chemistry involved, they could only be one-use cells, and could not be recharged.

Now a study, reported in phys.org, led by Professor Jürgen Janek and Dr. Philipp Adelhelm at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at Justus-Liebig-University Gießen in Gießen, Germany, has shown – unexpectedly – that sodium-air batteries, whilst potentially offering the high theoretical energy density of lithium-air, react in such a way as to be rechargeable.

Although the same study also showed that batteries based on this chemistry would have problems of deterioration to overcome, the fact that as the sixth most abundant element on Earth, sodium has a huge advantage over the much scarcer lithium.