New analysis from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Utilized Science is bridging the gap between these two elementary technologies for the first time in the form of a “steel-air scavenger” that gets the best of both sectors.
This metal-air scavenger functions like a battery, in that it gives energy by repeatedly breaking and forming a series of chemical bonds. Nevertheless, it also works as a harvester, in that power is provided by the energy in its setting: particularly, the chemical bonds in steel and air surrounding the metal-air scavenger.
The result’s a power source that has ten times more energy density than the very best energy harvesters and 13 times more energy density than lithium-ion batteries.
In the long run, such a power source could possibly be the premise for a brand new paradigm in robotics, where machines keep themselves powered by seeking out and “eating” metal, breaking down its chemical bonds for energy as people do with food.
In the near future, this technology is already powering a pair of spin-off companies. The winners of Penn’s annual Y-Prize Competition are planning to make use of metal-air scavengers to low-cost energy lights for off-grid homes in the developing industry and long-lasting sensors for transport containers that might alert to theft, damage or even human trafficking.
The researchers, James Pikul, assistant professor within the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, together with Min Wang and Unnati Joshi, members of his lab, featured a study showing their scavenger’s capabilities in the journal ACS Energy Letters.