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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Zinc-Air Surpasses Lithium In Major Breakthrough In Battery Tech

  • ECU's Dr. Muhammad Rizwan Azhar led the project which identified the advantages of zinc-air batteries, including their environmental friendliness, low cost, and safety.
  • The university's breakthrough involved using new materials like carbon and cheaper minerals to enhance the zinc-air battery's efficiency, power density, and lifespan.
  • The redesigned zinc-air batteries, utilizing abundant resources like zinc and air, offer a reliable energy storage solution, bringing Australia closer to its sustainability goals.
Battery

Edith Cowan University’s recent study into the advancement of sustainable battery systems suggests zinc-air batteries have emerged as a better alternative to lithium chemistries.

The research paper reporting the research and the results has been published in the journal EcoMat.

Edith Cowan University’s (ECU) Dr Muhammad Rizwan Azhar led the project which discovered lithium-ion batteries, although a popular choice for electric vehicles around the world, face limitations related to cost, finite resources, and safety concerns.

Dr Rizwan Azhar explained, “Rechargeable zinc-air batteries (ZABs) are becoming more appealing because of their low cost, environmental friendliness, high theoretical energy density, and inherent safety. With the emergence of next-generation long-range vehicles and electric aircraft in the market, there is an increasing need for safer, more cost-effective, and high-performance battery systems that can surpass the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries.”

The schematic illustrates the Co-N-C and Co-N-C@CoNiFe-LDH active sites for oxygen reduction reaction and oxygen evolution reaction, respectively. Image Credit: Edith Cowan University. The study paper is open access at posting and offers deep explanations and more images.

Zinc-air: An explainer

A zinc-air battery consists of a zinc negative electrode and an air positive electrode.

Until now the major disadvantage of these has been the limited power output, due to poor performance of air electrodes and short lifespan.

ECU’s breakthrough has enabled engineers to use a combination of new materials, such as carbon, cheaper iron and cobalt based minerals to redesign zinc-air batteries.

Dr Azhar noted, “The new design has been so efficient it suppressed the internal resistance of batteries, and their voltage was close to the theoretical voltage which resulted in a high peak power density and ultra-long stability. In addition to revolutionizing the energy storage industry, this breakthrough contributes significantly to building a sustainable society, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and mitigating environmental impacts.”

“By using natural resources, such as zinc from Australia and air, this further enhances the cost-effectiveness and viability of these innovative zinc-air batteries for the future,” added Dr Azhar.

Viable and reliable

Dr Azhar said while renewable resources such as solar, wind, and hydro energy play a critical role in the future of green energy, they are not completely reliable solutions as they are intermittent sources of energy.

“Due to the abundance of zinc available in countries such as Australia, and the ubiquity of air, this becomes a highly viable and reliable energy storage solution,” Dr Azhar explained.

ECU’s re-design of zinc-air batteries brings Australia closer to achieving the UN sustainable development goals and targets set by the Paris Agreement, which was established in late 2015 to emphasize the need for sustainable energy resources to limit climate change.

***

ADVERTISEMENT

That idea zinc-air is viable is likely true. The basic chemistry has been around for years, safe enough that folks plug them into their ears while powering hearing aides. They do have an enviable record to start with.

The issues are that they are likely to be lower cost. Not any lighter in weight, and far far safer. There are a lot of uses that the technology can address right away. Just growing out of the tiny hearing aide market will be noteworthy.

True market relevance in the consumer’s mind is the target. Show us the typical AAA, AA, D cell out for everyone to see in the shops and if they’re good – they will make market share quickly.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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