SEATTLE, Washington — Every year in the United States, approximately 17.5 million tons of steel and 1.15 million tons of brass end up in junkyards. In November 2016, Vanderbilt University professor Cary Pint and his Mechanical Engineering students discovered a new purpose for these waste materials and went public with a prototype for their do-it-yourself battery.
Pint’s invention is based on the so-called “Baghdad battery” discovered by archaeologists but can be made entirely out of basic materials found in any junkyard or household. Two small pieces of metal, one each of steel and brass, are soaked in a solution containing salt or antifreeze. While soaking, a small voltage is also applied.
After this is complete, a barrier is placed between the metals and they are submerged into another solution of water and potassium hydroxide (a type of soap) and that’s it. The process alters the chemical structure of the metal and makes it capable of storing and releasing energy. Then, when interacting with the second solution containing conductive liquid electrolytes, this do-it-yourself battery the size of a pill bottle comes to life.
Right now, the breakthrough is showing signs of promise in the scientific community. In addition to the fact that it can be made cheaply and easily, preliminary tests show that it can withstand daily use for 13 years and retain 90 percent of its original capacity. The technology is largely compatible with other green sources of energy such as solar panels, and can easily be engineered at room temperature.
However, there are also some challenges. At the moment Pint’s battery is comparable to a supercapacitor, which means it delivers short, strong bursts of energy. It could effectively power engine ignition but would be unable to support a constant light source.
Pint’s innovation could have a major impact in developing countries for communities living in landfills and junkyards. Such areas exist in all regions of the world and many lack basic electricity. With the right adjustments, do-it-yourself battery technology could supply power to numerous locations without any other involvement.
Pint’s team will focus its upcoming efforts on building a full-scale prototype of his design and producing a video detailing battery setup. While not a complete solution to poverty caused by lack of infrastructure, the do-it-yourself battery could be an immediate improvement for development and quality of life.
– Zack Machuga