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Nanotechnology: What is It?

Researchers have created a material containing nanoparticles that could help make large-scale long life batteries a reality.

The natural world is full of renewable energy sources, from the waves that fall on our shores to the Sun that shines in the sky. However, these energy sources are not reliable. What happens when the sea is calm or it is a cloudy day? Researchers around the world are working to develop a battery that can store the excess energy generated so we still have power when there is unfavourable weather.

A battery is made up of a positive and a negative terminal separated by a liquid or a solid called an electrolyte. When it is connected to an electrical circuit, a chemical reaction takes place in the electrolyte and negatively charged particles – electrons – flow around the circuit. One of the problems that researchers have encountered when creating batteries for large-scale energy storage is that, when the batteries are used over and over again, the terminals become damaged.

Using crystals made of nanoparticles, called copper hexacyanoferrate, scientists at Stanford University have created a material that allows electrons to move quickly and easily through a terminal without causing damage. As this material is relatively cheap to produce, researchers are a major step closer to producing low-cost batteries, with a long life, that can store energy on a large scale.