Is Nitrogen the Next Step for Battery Advancement?

This is an artistic illustration of Zhang and colleagues' proof-of-concept experiment, which successfully implements a reversible nitrogen cycle based on rechargeable Li-N2 batteries with promising electrochemical faradic efficiency. Credit: Zhang et. al.

Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere and for that reason, it’s often looked at as a possible solution to our energy crisis. The problem is the way in which nitrogen gas is composed. It’s made up of two nitrogen atoms held together by a very strong bind that doesn’t break under normal conditions. This makes things a little difficult for scientists who want to transform this chemical energy into renewable electricity. But, where there’s a will there’s a way.

Just recently in the journal Chem, researchers in China demonstrated one method of capturing atmospheric nitrogen that could potentially be used in batteries.  Their design is based on the idea of reversing the chemical reaction that powers existing lithium-nitrogen batteries.  It runs on atmospheric nitrogen in ambient conditions and reacts when mixed with lithium to form lithium nitride.  While the energy generated is brief, it does show promise and is still comparable to other lithium-metal batteries on the market.

Xin-Bo Zhang of the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry and senior author of the study commented, “This promising research on a nitrogen fixation battery system not only provides fundamental and technological progress in the energy storage system but also creates an advanced N2/Li3N (nitrogen gas/lithium nitride) cycle for a reversible fixation process.  The work is still at the initial stage.  More intensive efforts should be devoted to developing the battery systems.” So, is nitrogen set to become the next big ingredient in batteries? Quite possibly.

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