Stanford University scientists have breathed new life into the nickel-iron battery, a rechargeable technology developed by Thomas Edison more than a century ago.
Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.
“The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks,” said Hongjie Dai, professor of chemistry. “A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow.”
Now, Dai and his colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 issue of the journal Nature Communications.
Graduate student Hailiang Wang, lead author of the study, said the team managed to increase the charging and discharging rate by nearly 1,000 times.
“We’ve made it really fast,” Wang said.
The high-performance, low-cost battery could someday be used to help power electric vehicles, much as Edison originally intended, Dai said.
“Hopefully we can give the nickel-iron battery a new life,” he added.
Edison, an early advocate of all-electric vehicles, began marketing the nickel-iron battery around 1900. It was used in electric cars until about 1920. The battery’s long life and reliability made it a popular backup power source for railroads, mines and other industries until the mid-20th century.
Edison created the nickel-iron battery as an inexpensive alternative to corrosive lead-acid batteries. Its basic design consists of two electrodes – a cathode made of nickel and an anode made of iron – bathed in an alkaline solution.