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Nickel-Iron Battery Company Combines Business and Social Mission

Thomas Edison with a prototype Bailey car using nickel-iron batteries designed for a 1000-mile endurance race.
Photo credit: Iron Edison

Brandon and Maggie Williams created the Iron Edison Battery Company to address the issue of toxic waste related to rampant battery disposal. Their company is a living proof that business and profitability do not have to come at the expense of destroying the environment.

Brandon Williams, CEO of the company, said they wanted to serve the energy storage needs of building owners, data centers and off-grid customers who care about their environmental impact as much as their power supply.

To this end, they came up with the nickel-iron (Ni-Fe) battery. Thomas Edison had first developed the technology for this battery a century ago.

The Ni-Fe battery is projected to replace lead-acid battery in most applications. It is especially adaptable for renewable energy power systems such as solar photovoltaic cells since it can store captured energy from renewable sources.

The battery has an extraordinarily long service life. It is expected to last for more than 20 years. Some of the test batteries that are more than 50 years are still working well. Williams credits this longevity to a “perfectly reversible polish / tarnish reaction” going on inside the battery.

In comparison, in lead-acid battery the solid lead dissolves into a liquid electrolyte during discharge. Not all the solid is able to come out of solution and bond back onto the plate when the battery is recharged. Hence, an incomplete reaction significantly reduces the service life of the battery.

In terms of price, the Ni-Fe battery is more expensive than lead-acid battery, but this is offset by its superior performance and longer life.

In terms of environmental impact, the Ni-Fe battery does not use toxic metals like cadmium and lead compared to a lead-acid battery. It is not environmentally perfect, but it is significantly less toxic.

In any case, according to Williams, there is no need to replace the battery. It is sufficient to refresh the liquid electrolyte inside every 7 to 10 years. This is the greatest advantage in using this type of battery.

It is also noteworthy to compare it with lithium-ion battery. The latter battery is best suited for electric vehicles and bikes, but inadequate for large stationary storage applications unlike the former battery.

Williams concludes that their battery will have the most societal impact in developing countries, where no significant recycling efforts are practiced. Countries like China throw away huge quantities of used lead-acid batteries in dumpsites. These batteries can leach toxic wastes into water tables.

[via cleantechnica]

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