A better way to store energy

12 July 2011

Metal nitrides the way to go says 3MT Peoples' Choice winner, Olga Kartachova.

Deakin University researcher Olga Kartachova, from the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation on the Waurn Ponds Campus, recently took out the Peoples' Choice award at the final of the Three Minute Thesis competition. This is an edited version of her presentation.

Some time ago I bought a Smartphone and I was very disappointed to see how quickly the battery goes flat compared to my old phone, which people now call “the brick”.

We need a better way to store and use the energy. This can be achieved by developing better lithium ion batteries and supercapacitors.

The difference between the two is that batteries store more energy but supercapacitors are more powerful, so they are often used together in many applications, from toys to hybrid cars.

However, these devices still have many safety and performance problems due to their active materials. Now imagine the future phone that will not only work longer, but will have enough power to send an SMS from the middle of the desert by burst transmissions.

To make this a reality, we need new electrode materials and that’s what I am working on. They should be safe, cheap and efficient. One class of materials seem to have great potential. They are inorganic compounds with a boring name but amazing properties-transition, metal nitrides.

In supercapacitors, I was looking for electrode materials with a high surface area, because that’s where the electrochemical magic happens! By using nanotechnology, I was able to make nitrides with porous, or a sponge-like structure, which have the same surface area as a tennis court in only one tea spoon of powder.  

I accidently made a further improvement, when I produced a nitride sample just before the Christmas break and lef for the holidays.

When I came back and tested it, it worked surprisingly well, which was not the case with the freshly made material. When I was away, the large surface of those porous nitride particles reacted with the air and got covered with a shell of interesting oxidized compounds, which store even more energy. My next task is to identify and consistently reproduce them.

The target is to make those nitrides store 5-10 times more energy than today’s electrode materials. Just imagine, with those nitrides, you could use your laptop continuously on the plane from Melbourne to Paris and back without a single recharge!

My work gives me hope that in the future, when my car breaks down in the middle of the desert I could always use my phone to call for help.

Olga Kartachova Olga Kartachova

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