PhD candidate Tristan Simons is the winner of Deakin University's Three Minute Thesis Competition.
Tristan, from Deakin's Institute for Frontier Materials where he works with Professor Maria Forsyth, won both the judges' award and the peoples' choice award for his presentation: Sun to Socket: The Zinc-Air rechargeable battery.
Wildcard entry, Jack Migdalek, was adjudged runner-up for his presentation: Viewing and doing gender.
Tristan Simons gets $2000 in prizemoney and a trip to Queensland to represent Deakin in the national final.
Thanks to Robyn Williams, he will also get to present his 3MT thesis on The Science Show on ABC Radio National.
Check out Tristan's video presentation at the bottom of this article.
Video of other finalists can be seen on the Deakin Research Channel.
Tristan Simons' 3MT presentation
Who in this room wants to save the planet? If you do, then you might believe that solar and wind power is a great way to move away from dirty, carbon emitting fossil fuels. It’s a wonderful image; the world’s energy needs being met by a bright sunny day, or a cool pleasant breeze.
But what stops the lights going out when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?
The answer to this question lies in energy storage. We know that renewable energy sources don’t give an uninterrupted supply of power, so it’s important to save some up for a rainy day. The simplest solution is to use our wind turbine or solar farm to charge up a battery, which we can then use later where and when we need it.
But there is a problem - there are lots of different types of batteries to do lots of different types of jobs, but we simply don’t have a rechargeable battery that is cheap enough or green enough to do THIS job.
This is my project: The zinc-air rechargeable battery - Its the bigger, better battery that can store huge amounts of energy where it’s generated, then dispense it when it’s needed. This battery uses zinc – one of our cheapest and most produced metals - and oxygen - taken straight from the air - to generate electricity. However, this wonderful piece of clean technology has a drawback - it cannot be recharged.
One of the main reasons that it can’t be recharged is that when the battery is used, zinc metal gets dissolved away from the smooth metal surface into the liquid inside - known as an electrolyte. When it gets recharged, we need to put the zinc back again. But it needs to go back on just the way it was when we started - as a smooth surface - otherwise the battery short circuits and dies.
Imagine you were painting your whole house. Some movers come along and take all your furniture away so you can paint. When your done, they bring it all back again, but you notice something! The bed is in the kitchen; the toaster is in the toilet! - Its not in the same place it was when they took it away! Just as a good mover would remember that the toilet is not the home of the toaster, a good electrolyte will put zinc back on the electrode in a smooth shape when the battery gets recharged.
I’n my project, I’ve gone away and made some new electrolytes and I’ve found that I CAN deposit zinc from my electrolytes, but changes in the recipe can give drastically different shapes of zinc. If you add some water, it creates a nice smooth surface made of tiny needles. Take the water away, and the zinc shape becomes a jagged spongy mess, which is toaster in toilet territory!
These initial findings are my first steps towards making a rechargeable zinc-air battery, which could hold the key to letting all of us, save the planet.