Dead Set Legends: Australian Scientists Just Worked Out How Zinc-Air Batteries Can Replace Lithium-Ion Batteries

Image: The University of Sydney

Researchers at the University of Sydney just worked out how to solve one of the biggest problems standing in the way for zinc-air batteries to replace lithium-ion batteries as our go-to for modern electronics.

Zinc-air batteries are batteries powered by zinc metal and oxygen from the air. Becasue of how much zinc metal we have around the world (it's a lot), these batteries are much cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries, and they can also store more energy (theoretically five times more than that of lithium-ion batteries), are much safer and are more environmentally friendly.

Total win-win.

Now, while zinc-air batteries are currently used as an energy source in hearing aids and some film cameras and railway signal devices, their widespread use has been hindered by the fact that, up until now, recharging them has proved difficult. This is because of the lack of electrocatalysts to reduce and generate oxygen during the discharging and charging of a battery.

The researchers developed a new three-stage method to overcome this problem.

According to lead researcher Professor Yuan Chen from the University of Sydneys Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, the new method can be used to create bifunctional oxygen electrocatalysts for building rechargeable zinc-air batteries - from scratch.

These new catalysts are produced through the simultaneous control of the composition, size and crystallinity of metal oxides of earth-abundant elements like iron, cobalt and nickel. They can then be applied to build rechargeable zinc-air batteries.

Researcher Dr Li Wei, also from the University's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, said trials of zinc-air batteries developed with the new catalysts had demonstrated "excellent rechargeability" – including less than a 10 percent battery efficacy drop over 60 discharging/charging cycles of 120 hours.

"We are solving fundamental technological challenges to realise more sustainable metal-air batteries for our society," Professor Chen added.

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    Nice one Rae.

    Battery (electrical energy) storage is the one technology where innovation will reap rewards.
    Nice to read such a positive story about the tech and great to see one of our nation's universities producing truly useful research.

      Thank you! I try to highlight the work of our amazing scientists as much as I can :)

        It's sad to think that with all cuts in funding Australian Uni scientists are still pushing the envelope here and not moving to the US. A clear sign for Turnbull to cut their funding further.

    Have said it before, will say it again: I fucking love science.

    Only 60 recharge cycles though? Looks like the next constraint to overcome is kind of a big one.

      Saying that, if it has 5 times the capacity, then its still making strides.

      60 cycles of 120 hours. 120 hours is five days which basically means that the battery loses 10% efficiency in a year (well a little less). Of course, there is the question of what that 120 hours translates to in real world use (ie: if you had the battery in a phone or a laptop).

      Bearing in mind they're expecting the batteries to be much cheaper that means you could potentially replace them and still save money compared to one lithium battery. Time to push for removable batteries in phones again.

        I was curious about that myself. Read it a few more times, and it didn't help. On one side, it looks like this was merely used for scope... On the other, it looks like that is all it's got in it. LoL

    Interesting that they're potentially using nickle in the catalyst. Just thinking how Palmer Nickle went bust recently, makes me wonder whether it'd be a good time to buy it from the administrator and get it up and running again.

      Due to the fall in Nickel prices a number of mine sites around Australia got mothballed, not just the Palmer one and dealing with administrators can be problematic. So I would look at one of the companies that process Nickel not in administration (usually due to them mining a number of different minerals) but yes perhaps a long shot that could pay dividends.

        Yeah good point, but was thinking it may be possible to pick it up for a song.

    Did I just read a charge cycle of 120 hours? That's a deal breaker to me. I can charge a half dozen Li-on batteries in 3 hours... Hopefully this was just in testing, and real world application would be much less. Could you imagine not being able to drive your Tesla or Prius for 5 days? 😖

      The wording does make it a little ambiguous but I think it is meaning the whole Discharge + charging cycle is 120hrs so hopefully most of that time in in the discharge phase, but yes not 100% clear.

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