The walls and roof are battery

Lithium batteries have transformed power storage—from smartphones to electric cars and submarines. But like every battery their chemical composition changes through every charge cycle.

Lithium ions sitting in layers of graphite move between electrodes and change the oxidation state of, magnesium oxide, for example. The chemical rearrangements cause the graphite and oxide layers to physically expand and contract by up to 15 per cent at every cycle, cracking and detaching from the electrodes.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer from Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) at The University of Sydney has eliminated the stack of cards. Instead, his design has a wobbly carbon electrode, with a gel touching it. The design is self-healing. He has used this idea to create zinc-bromine batteries that transport ions embedded in a gel.

These batteries are stable and flexible and use nano-engineered gel structures and surfaces on the electrodes. The gel also acts as fire retardant. His spin-out company Gelion Technologies is exploring with Lend Lease how this battery technology could be built into the walls and roofs of new buildings.

“You won’t need a battery in the garage. Instead it will be in the walls and roof— perhaps as roof tiles, or solar shingles, with a solar panel on one side and a battery on the other, and all clipping together. City office buildings will become huge batteries capturing off-peak energy and stabilising the power grid.” Armstrong Energy, the UK ’s major utility-scale solar energy company has also made an $11 million commitment to the technology.

A big deal for small science

Unbreakable quantum communication and ultra-high speed wireless computing; houses and offices that work as batteries; steel cars slimmed by 100 kg; efficient biofuel production; and real time targeting of cancers.

These are some of the technologies being developed at the new Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, which opened on 20 April 2016.

The University of Sydney has equipped the new institute with the best nanoscience facilities in Australia, and staffed it with researchers who are working at the nanoscale in computing, communication, energy storage, biofuels, alloys and health. The $150-million Nanoscience Hub was co-funded with $40 million from the Australian Government. Its core facilities are available for fundamental research and for the work of start-ups and established industries.

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For more information:
Vivienne Reiner, The University of Sydney
+61 2 9351 2390

Banner image: Andrea Blanco-Redondo and her colleagues at AINST plan to transform computing with photonic chips using silicon
Credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS)