Stanford engineers have developed inexpensive urea batteries. A new high performance battery that could provide a low cost storage solution for solar power, which is plentiful during the day but needs to be stored for use at night.

A battery containing urea, an element commonly found in fertilizers and mammalian urine, could provide us with a cheap way to store energy produced from renewable sources, a challenge today.

Developed by Stanford chemistry professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral student Michael Angell, the battery is non-flammable and contains graphite and aluminum electrodes. The main component of its electrolytes is urea, which is produced industrially by the ton in fertilizer factories. I mean, it’s very inexpensive.

“So basically what you have is a battery made from some of the cheapest and most abundant materials we can find on earth. And it works really well, ”Dai said.

In 2015, Dai’s lab was the first to manufacture a rechargeable aluminum battery. This system charges in less than a minute and lasts for thousands of charge and discharge cycles. The laboratory collaborates with Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) for the battery of an electric motorcycle with this version. However, this version of the battery had one major drawback – it was an expensive electrolyte.

The latest version features a urea-based electrolyte, which is around 100 times cheaper than the 2015 model, with higher efficiency and a 45-minute charge time. This is the first time that urea has been used in a battery. According to Dai, the cost difference between the two batteries is “like night and day.”

Renewable energy storage.

Unlike energy derived from fossil fuels, solar energy can essentially only be harnessed when the sun is shining. If this energy is not consumed immediately, it is lost as heat. As the demand for renewable technologies increases, so does the need for cheap and efficient batteries to store energy and use it at night. Today’s batteries, such as lithium or lead acid batteries, are expensive and have a limited lifespan.

This new battery could provide a solution to the storage problem.

“It’s not expensive. Is efficient. The storage network is the primary target,” Angell said.

Storage area network is also the most realistic target, according to Angell, due to its low cost, high efficiency and long lifespan.

Although they are also effective, lithium-ion batteries commonly used in small electronics and other devices can be flammable. On the contrary, the urea battery is not flammable and therefore presents less risk.

A commercial version of the battery is currently in development.

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