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Battery Fueled By Air Could Power Cars, Laptops

According to researchers at the University of St. Andrews, the St. Andrews Air battery (STAIR) may be the ticket to a new era of laptops, mobile devices, and electric cars, discarding traditional chemicals and using air as a source of power.

While the overall design has not been finalized, the researchers behind the project say that the air-fueled battery could present ten times the energy capacity of rechargeable lithium batteries currently available on the market.

“Our target is to get a five to ten fold increase in storage capacity, which is beyond the horizon of current lithium batteries. Our results so far are very encouraging and have far exceeded our expectations,” said Professor Peter Bruce of the Chemistry Department at the University of St Andrews.

Rather than using the traditional chemical constituent, lithium cobalt oxide, the STAIR battery utilizes porous carbon. Oxygen is freely drawn in from the air and reacts within the pores of the carbon component, creating a constant "flow" of energy, or as Bruce states, a reagent, continuously recharging the battery as it discharges. Because the battery doesn't require chemicals, it offers more energy for the same size battery currently available on the market, and is relatively cheaper than its chemical-based comrades.

Currently the research project reaches its halfway mark in July. Entitled "An O2 Electrode for a Rechargeable Lithium Battery," the research began on July 1, 2007, and is expected to end on June 30, 2011. The primary focus of the project is to understand how the chemical reaction of the battery works, and how to improve it. The team plans to create a STAIR cell prototype that can work in a cell phone or MP3 player, however the battery will more than likely not see a commercial release for at least another five years.

While the project is being led by Bruce and the research group over at the University of St Andrews, Strathclyde and Newcastle are also pitching in to provide additional help. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is providing the funding for the project, with £1,579,137--almost 2.2 million USD--donated thus far.