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USA: Breakthrough Grid Battery’s Surprising Ingredient

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by Pete Danko
Bismuth – part of the active ingredient in the stomach-settler Pepto-Bismol – might just be the key to making cheap, rechargeable and green batteries that could be used on a big scale to store renewable energy.

Researchers at the University of Southern California, backed by the government’s ARPA-E program, report that additions of bismuth sulfide to iron-air batteries reducing the amount of power lost to hydrolysis from 50 percent to 4 percent. This approximately tenfold increase in efficiency for the batteries, which came on the scene in the 1970s, might make them a player in the all-important quest to find ways to store intermittently produced clean energy.

“Iron is cheap and air is free,” Sri Narayan, the USC chemistry professor heading up the research, said in a university release. “It’s the future.”

Iron-air batteries work by using the chemical energy generated by the oxidation of iron plates when exposed to the oxygen in air, but that chemical reaction has heretofore been significantly offset competing hydrogen generation taking place in the battery.
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