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Anyone Can DIY Batteries with Scrap Metal, Disconnect from the Grid

08 November 2016

A team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, led by Cary L. Pint, has developed a hands-on approach to power –using scrap metal and various chemicals that can be found around your home. Not only is the development novel, but the team is also ready to offer a set of instructions so that anyone can “DIY” their own batteries from the comfort of their own home.

That’s right. Imagine using some junk from around your home to create your very own power sources.

(Image Credit: Vanderbilt University)(Image Credit: Vanderbilt University)

According to Pint, there’s a common misconception floating around that batteries are so complex, when in reality they can be fashioned with some common materials and an instructional video.

Pint and his colleagues aren’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to come up with some original technology in their lab. We often read about cool new breakthroughs happening around the world, and are curious about when we can get our hands on them.

The harsh reality is that a lot of these developments never even make it to market.

“Battery researchers like myself do great things in the lab and hope the battery industry will pick it up, but a lot of it gets disregarded,” says Pint.

That’s why he’s on a mission to break the cycle by skipping over the manufacturers and communicating directly with the public.

“This is why the Internet exists,” he added, referring to its ability to provide resources and communication for all. Pint also recognizes the value of DIY culture.

“There’s a lot you can buy, but you can also go on YouTube and do-it-yourself, and learn something in the process,” he says.

According to the scientist, the battery industry has been following closely behind the electronics industry, which follows Moore’s Law. Pint acknowledges that the battery industry has only gotten about four times better and therefore the community may be looking for something even bigger.

The problem is, there’s a large risk associated with battery research due to investment struggles. With so many advances, which does a company decide to invest in?

In order to eliminate the corporate component, Pint and the team will tackle the public directly. While the group’s paper, “From the Junkyard to the Power Grid: Ambient Processing of Scrap Metals into Nanostructured Electrodes for Ultrafast Rechargeable Batteries,” is filled with highly technical and potentially intimidating jargon, all that’s necessary for you to create your own battery is steel, brass, and a solution comprised of household chemicals such as potassium hydroxide (an ingredient found in laundry detergent). You may need to take a quick ride to your local market for anti-freeze though.

How They Work

The simple process involves the preparation of steel and brass scraps of different shapes and sizes, including shavings and screws, in order to turn them into effective electrodes for batteries. When the electrodes are combined with aqueous potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte, they form a battery with a voltage of up to 1.8 volts and an energy density up to 20 watt hours per kilogram, a measurement that approaches that of traditional lead-acid and nickel-iron batteries. The group’s testing showed the steel-brass batteries could charge and discharge more than 5,000 times.

The goal is to create plans and design layouts for people to make their own batteries, and ultimately bring energy off the grid.

“The battery industry won’t like it,” says Pint, and it does need to make money. However, at this time, there isn’t much of a market for inexpensive batteries.

So, why should you “DIY” when it comes to batteries?

For starters, the method is less expensive, but it also provides users with an opportunity to control their energy consumption.

As an added benefit, it comes along with a low carbon footprint. And, while disconnecting from the grid may seem like a frightening concept, Pint assures us that with an appropriate energy storage system, it’s actually doable – and could eventually even be necessary.

“Maybe 100 years from now, we’re going to run out of these fossil fuels. Then what do we do?” he questions. “The only way forward is to come up with a realistic plan for people to sustainably produce and store their energy on a small scale.”

Pint plans to turn the research into a senior design project at Vanderbilt and eventually relay to the public exactly how they can simply, and affordably, create their very own batteries – in order to become an independent power producer.

To contact the author of this article, email Nicolette.Emmino@ieeeglobalspec.com


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