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Stanford researchers use a compound in fertilizer to create inexpensive battery

Why it matters to you

Urea-based renewable energy batteries will likely be cheaper than your standard set of rechargeables.

Ever the incubator for innovative ideas, Stanford University announced this week its engineers successfully developed a new type of low-cost battery capable of storing renewable energy. A breakthrough, no doubt, but what is particularly impressive is that the engineers used urea — a compound typically found in fertilizer or the urine of mammals — to create the battery. Aside from the wow factor of using something associated with compost or manure, the urea-based battery boasts a cost 100 times cheaper than similar batteries developed by the team in 2015.

In addition to the urea base, Stanford chemistry professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell (the two engineers working on the battery) chose to use aluminum and graphite electrodes to maintain its cheap price tag. All told, Dai and Angell’s creation boasts the ability to stash an abundance of renewable energy for users to utilize during off hours. Compared to the same group’s battery from two years ago, the latest iteration dodges using a spendy electrolyte to keep cost down.

“So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth,” said Dai. “And it actually has good performance.”

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Moving forward, Dai and Angell intend to¬†evaluate the battery’s chemical process to help extend its lifespan. In order for the battery to reach commercial quality — and to serve the demands of grid storage — the battery must last at least 10 years. Concerning the battery’s charge time and rough estimate of cycles, the team says it is designed to take just 45 minutes to replenish and has the ability to endure roughly 1,500 different cycles. With patents already secured for the design — to a company founded by Dai called AB Systems — the immediate next step for the duo is to finish the creation of a standard commercial version.