New Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Compete with Lithium-Ion Batteries New Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Compete with Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium has been the dominant battery material for some time, but it's an imperfect one. Such batteries are not without disadvantages. The cobalt and lithium used in them aren’t particularly abundant and there is a risk of fire or explosion because lithium batteries contain a flammable organic electrolyte. In an effort to resolve these issues, scientists have been conducting research to find a different element that could replace lithium. One of them is zinc, because it has had the most advances in testing. Zinc has been used in most standard alkaline batteries as an anode. While zinc is fairly abundant, it unfortunately doesn’t perform so well as a rechargeable battery—though it is fairly safe as it uses a water-based electrolyte compared to the flammable organic electrolytes in lithium batteries. Zinc battery anodes are commonly created by adhering zinc particles together. If the battery goes through multiple periods of recharging, it will typically start forming a coat of zinc oxide, which is less effective at conducting and encases some of the zinc. Dendrites can form due to the difference in charge distribution and, due to this, the battery poses a risk of short circuiting as these dendrites can perforate the anode barrier. But now a group of researchers from the United States Naval Research Laboratory has potentially created a safe version of a zinc battery that can suppress the formation of zinc dendrites. The dendrite formation issue was resolved by redesigning the zinc electrode. The initial problem resulting in dendrite formation was due to the behavior of zinc during cycling. The zinc electrodes are typically made by binding together and drying zinc emulsions to create a powder, which lacks the surface area and capability to distribute charge uniformly enough to prevent dendrite formation. The redesign came in the form of a 3-D sponge-like structure that is capable of distributing charge uniformly during charge cycles. The redesigned battery was tested in combination with a nickel electrode and yielded some promising results. The researchers demonstrated the battery by charging and discharging a 12-volt version more than 50,000 times, all the while retaining its porous architecture. On top of the remarkable charge cycle results, the researcher did some math and showed that the battery was capable of holding more charge, was lighter, and smaller than a typical lead-acid battery. Additional calculations were made showing that the battery could even potentially outperform Li-ion batteries in electric cars in terms of space and weight. The researchers are currently focused on zinc configuration and further development as the zinc batteries are less expensive to produce than our current lithium-ion batteries containing cobalt.
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