UNSW researchers solve aqueous rechargeable zinc battery challenge


Aqueous zinc batteries (AZBs) have emerged as one of the alternatives to lithium-ion battery technology that currently dominates the renewable and stationary energy storage market, but the development of the technology faces major challenges due to chemical corrosion that severely limits the battery’s ability to recharge.

The benefits of AZB chemistry are attributable to the energy-dense zinc metal anode and aqueous salt solution electrolytes. But their incompatibility, which results in chemical corrosion of the anode, effectively reduces the cycle life of the battery cell.

A team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Chemical Engineering say they have developed a solution that addresses the corrosion issue, improving the battery life span by five to 20 times, the equivalent of pushing the lifetime from a few months to more than three years.

Researchers Yuan Shang, Dr Priyank Kumar, and Dr Dipan Kundu said they spent three years working on the solution, which involved adding small concentrations of organic compounds to the battery electrolyte.

The researchers have now revealed that adding a 1% concentration of 1,2 butanediol to the electrolyte addresses the corrosion issue and effectively reduces the dendritic zinc deposits that otherwise short-circuit the battery cell.

The outcome of their work, published in the Advanced Materials journal, is a five to 20 times improvement in the battery cycle life under conditions suitable for beyond-lab-scale development.

The research team said the solution preserves the aqueous nature of the electrolyte, maintaining cost and safety benefits of AZB technology and the results are approaching that of competing lithium-ion batteries.

Dr Priyank Kumar, Dr Dipan Kundu and Yuan Shang.

Image: ARC Centre of Excellence

Kundu said AZB technology could provide “a cost-effective and reliable storage option for industries like mining, construction, and telecommunications.”

The UNSW has estimated that a fully developed technology would cost consumers around one-third to one-fourth the price of the present-day lithium-ion systems.

“The AZB technology can be implemented as energy storage systems at various scales, from small-scale residential/commercial and medium-scale community storage units to large-scale grid-level installations,” Kundu said.

The UNSW team said it is continuing to work on developing the technology with an eye on developing battery cell prototypes and is seeking funding to develop a spin-off focused on commercial development.

Author: Aylish Dowsett

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