Chemists at Stanford have helped bring a battery designed by Thomas Edison into the modern age. Like us, Edison was also interested in electric cars, and in 1901 he developed a iron-nickel battery. In a case of buzzwords being right for a reason, the Stanford team used the same elements as Edison, but structured them on the nanoscale. Edison’s original design sounds like it was essentially just one alloy of iron and carbon for one electrode and one of nickel and carbon for the other electrode. The new battery consisted of small iron pieces grown on top of graphene (that wonderful form of carbon we’ve talked about before) for the first electrode and small nickel regions grown on top of “tubes” of carbon (which probably means nanotubes).
The new battery is 1000 times more efficient than traditional nickel-iron batteries, but the improvement means it only now is about equal to the energy storage and discharge abilities of our modern lithium ion batteries. Although there’s lot of research being done on improving our lithium ion batteries, there are some unique advantages to the nickel-iron batteries. For one, there’s a lot more iron and nickel than lithium, meaning the batteries could be cheaper. Nickel-iron batteries also don’t contain any flammable materials, while lithium batteries are capable of exploding. While the nickel-iron batteries might not appear everywhere, their inability to explode could be a boon to electric car manufacturers.