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MIT Accidentally Discovered A New Way To Make Metal


Trying to find better liquid battery chemistry, MIT researchers discover a smelting process that could separate nearly pure transition metals from their ores, without the harmful byproducts of typical smelting.

Creating better liquid batteries has many enormous benefits, especially to the promising field of renewable energy storage. That’s why a lot of research goes into the area, which also might often mean some failed research. But as we will see, even failure has its upsides.

In the quest for a more efficient liquid battery, MIT researchers have been able to discover a new and better method for metal smelting, one not as environmentally taxing as current methods.

In their study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers were fiddling with the electrochemistry of liquid batteries, looking at placing a second electrolyte between the positive and negative electrodes.

Courtesy of the researchers
Image Credit: Yin, et al./Nature Communications

When they powered up this setup, instead of charging the battery, electrolysis occurred, purifying the antimony sulfide being used. The addition of a good ionic conductor on top of the antimony sulfide allowed electrolysis, creating a pool of 99.9% pure antimony.

While antimony was the metal “smelted,” the researchers predict other metals, like copper, could undergo the same process with much less environmental cost than established methods.

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