A battery that relies on the most common gas in Earth’s atmosphere may be a more environmentally friendly way to produce and store power, but there are some bugs to work out, Chinese scientists say.
Researchers at the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, report that they were able to use nitrogen to briefly produce power from an experimental battery cell. Nitrogen makes up more than three-quarters of our air, but trying to harness it in a battery is difficult. Nitrogen atoms bond tightly to each other, and getting them to react with other elements requires some coaxing.
The Changchun team injected pure nitrogen into a battery that used a lithium anode and a cathode made from a composite of carbon, zirconium oxide, and the rare-Earth metal ruthenium. Between them, a lithium-carbon-sulfur compound acted as an electrolyte.
The nitrogen bonded with the lithium through an ether-based catalyst to produce energy and was released when the battery discharged. The resulting reaction produced electricity comparable to other lithium-gas batteries, but without the high-temperature, high-pressure processes needed to make those cells.