A new battery design that could someday power electric cars and other devices for a longer period of time is currently in the works. The current battery model-Zinc air batteries—are lightweight, compact, and made from more sustainable, less flammable materials, but they are usually not rechargeable.
The new design could improve the durability of zinc-air batteries
By tweaking the building materials currently used, researchers created a prototype of a zinc-air battery that could be recharged hundreds of times.
Zinc-air batteries are one of many potential next-generation batteries currently in production. They hold more energy, while being cheaper and safer than existing devices.
The working process of the zinc-air batteries
Every zinc-air battery cell contains two electrodes—a zinc anode and a porous cathode—separated by a liquid called an electrolyte. In standard zinc-air cells, the electrolyte is a high-pH substance, containing ingredients like potassium hydroxide.
Oxygen from the air enters the cathode, where the gas reacts with water from the electrolyte to form hydroxide. Hydroxide formed at the cathode surface travels to the anode and reacts with zinc to release energy that powers other devices.
Researchers find a solution to the Zinc-air battery problem
“The problem is, this reaction is not very reversible,” says Wei Sun, a material scientist at the University of Münster in Germany. As the reaction is irreversible, it makes it hard to recharge the zinc-air battery. Also-due to the caustic electrolyte—degradation in the cathode and anode occurs.
To solve those problems, Sun and colleagues built a zinc-air battery using a new electrolyte that contains water-repellant ions. The new electrolyte allows the reaction to be reversible, making it possible to recharge the battery.
The new electrolyte also does not degrade the battery’s electrode, which helps it last longer. In lab experiments carried out by Sun and colleagues, a zinc-air battery cell was drained and recharged 320 times over 160 hours.