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Aluminium Air Battery

# Aluminium Air Battery

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03/26/2013

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JCE Classroom Activity: #93
Aluminum–Air Battery
Modesto Tamez and Julie H. Yu*
Exploratorium Teacher Institute, 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco, CA 94123; *
jyu@exploratorium.edu
In this Activity, students construct a simple battery rom aluminum oil, saltwater, and activated charcoal. Te battery can power a small motor or light.
Background
Homemade batteries are an inexpensive, practical, and hands-on way to teach oxidation and reduction reactions. A popularbattery can be made out o a lemon and two metal electrodes, but a single lemon cell rarely produces enough current to power an actual device
(1).
Students must construct several cells in series or monitor readings on a multimeter in order to visualize battery perormance
(2).
A simple aluminum–air battery can generate 1 V and 100 mA, which is enough powerto run a small electrical device or light. While the voltage is comparable to a traditional lemon cell, the current can be up to400 times greater than what is generated in a typical classroom activity
(1).
Tis battery relies on oxidation o aluminum atthe anode and reduction o oxygen at the cathode to generate electrical energy. A diagram o the battery and equations orthe hal and overall reactions are given below.Anode: Al(s) + 3OH
(aq)
Al(OH)
3
(s) + 3e
Cathode: O
2
(g) + 2H
2
O(l) + 4e

4OH
(aq)Overall: 4Al(s) + 3O
2
(g) + 6H
2
O(l)
4Al(OH)
3
(s)Aluminum oil provides an aordable supply o aluminum. Activated charcoal is usedat the cathode to increase the amount o oxygen that comes in contact with the battery.Activated charcoal is very porous and has a high surace area to mass ratio. Tis surace provides a large number o adsorption sites to which oxygen can bind and participate inthe cathode reaction.
Integrating the Activity into Your Curriculum
Tis Activity demonstrates oxidation and reduction reactions, which are integral parts o battery chemistry. Te use o atmospheric oxygen as the oxidizing agent has extensions to other redox reactions that occurin corrosion, metabolism, and combustion. In addition, the participation o oxygen as a reactant in the aluminum–air bat-tery can be used to introduce the concepts o uel cells and alternative energy sources. Photos o the aluminum–air battery procedure are online
(3),
as well as directions or a homemade saltwater battery
(4).
Students use non-toxic, readily available materials to construct a battery that can power an electrical device. Activatedcharcoal can be ound in pet and aquarium supply stores. Small electrical devices such as a 1.5–3 V dc motor (Radio Shack#273-223,
) are available at electronic stores. Te battery is also strong enough to power a holi-day light that has been cut rom the string and stripped to reveal its wire leads. Make sure the chosen device will producea noticeable change when connected to a 1 V power supply. I desired, students can also measure the voltage and current produced by their cell on a multimeter. Comparisons can be made to determine what aspects o the design contribute toimproved battery perormance.
1. In order or current to pass between the electrodes, there must be an electrolyte between them. Te salt provides ionsthat can move through the wet paper towel and transer charge.2. Tough there is plenty o oxygen in the air, it must be in contact with the carbon in order to react. Te increased suracearea allows more oxygen to participate in the reaction at the cathode. Tis improves the overall rate o reaction, whichresults in a greater number o electrons to ow per unit time and thus increases the current.3.
Te oxygen that reacts at the cathode is constantly replenished, just as reactants in a uel cell are. At the other electrode,aluminum is oxidized and slowly consumed. Afer enough use, this oxidation can be seen as corrosion o the Al surace.4. I the oil rom one cell is in contact with the oil rom the cell above it, the electrons will bypass the paper towel andactivated charcoal, moving directly into the second piece o oil, which has a lower resistance than the charcoal layer. Tiseectively shorts out the lower cell, which no longer contributes to the overall power output. Compare the power romthe stacked pile o cells when pieces o oil are touching versus when they are not.
References, Additional Related Activities, and Demonstrations
(accessed Sep 2007)
1. Swartling, Daniel J.; Morgan, Charlotte. Lemon Cells Revisited—Te Lemon-Powered Calculator.
J. Chem. Educ.

1998,
75,
181–182.2. Muske, Kenneth R.; Nigh, Christopher W.; Weinstein, Randy D. A Lemon Cell Battery or High-Power Applications.
J. Chem. Educ.

2007,

84,
635–638.3. Aluminum Air Battery.
http://www.exo.net/~pauld/activities/AlAirBattery/alairbattery.html
4. Saltwater Battery.
http://www.exo.net/~pauld/summer_institute/summer_day15current/saltwaterbattery.html
Tis Activity is based on a demonstration to the Exploratorium by teachers rom the Galileo Workshop in Japan. JHY is supported by a National Science Foundation DiscoveryCorps Fellowship (CHE-0610238).
Instructor Information
7
1936A
Pressing the electrode into theactivated charcoal generatesenough current to illuminate aholiday light.
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p  e  r   f  o  r  a  t  e   d   f  o   l   d    h  e  r  e  a  n   d   t  e  a  r  o  u  t
JCE Classroom Activities
are edited by Erica K. Jacobsen and Julie Cunningham

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