Thursday, 17 August 2017 09:53

Sydney team makes advance in charging zinc-air batteries

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Researchers at the University of Sydney have come up with a solution to one of the main hurdles preventing zinc-air batteries from being used in electronic devices instead of lithium-ion batteries.

A paper published in the Advanced Materials journal this week by the team, in co-operation with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, outlined a three-stage method to overcome the problems.

A statement from the University of Sydney said that zinc-air batteries were much cheaper to produce that their lithium-ion counterparts. They could also store much more energy — theoretically five times more — and were safer and also more environmentally friendly.

But recharging zinc-air batteries had proved difficult. This was because of the lack of electrocatalysts that successfully reduced and generated oxygen during the process of discharging and charging.

The lead author of the paper, Professor Yuan Chen of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, said the new method could be used to create bifunctional oxygen electrocatalysts for building rechargeable zinc-air batteries from scratch.

zinc air

“Up until now, rechargeable zinc-air batteries have been made with expensive precious metal catalysts, such as platinum and iridium oxide," Prof Chen said. "In contrast, our method produces a family of new high-performance and low-cost catalysts.”

He said these new catalysts were produced through simultaneous control of the composition, size and crystallinity of metal oxides of elements like iron, cobalt and nickel which were available in abundant quantities. Theses could then be applied to build rechargeable zinc-air batteries.

Paper co-author Dr Li Wei, also from the 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% 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,” Prof Chen said.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Texas said they had created the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for mobiles, electric cars and stationary storage.

Photos: courtesy University of Sydney

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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