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Building a Stronger, Safer Zinc Battery

University of Maryland engineers revive an old chemistry with a new electrolyte.

1 min read
A large set of safe zinc battery cells.

A team led by researchers at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering has created a water-based zinc battery that is simultaneously powerful, rechargeable, and intrinsically safe.

A researcher wearing a white lab coat and blue latex gloves kneels to work on a set of safe zinc batteries.

Together with colleagues at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and National Institute of Standards and Technology, UMD engineers combined old battery technology (metallic zinc) with new (water-in-salt electrolytes). Building on prior UMD advances to create safer batteries using a novel aqueous electrolyte instead of the flammable organic electrolyte used in conventional lithium-ion batteries, the researchers cranked up the energy of the aqueous battery by adding metallic zinc—used as the anode of the very first battery—and its salt to the electrolyte as well.

The research team says the new aqueous zinc battery could eventually be used not just in consumer electronics, but also in extreme conditions to improve the performance of safety-critical vehicles such as those used in aerospace, military, and deep-ocean environments.

A large set of safe zinc battery cells.

As an example of the aqueous zinc battery’s power and safety, the researchers cite numerous battery fire incidents in cell phones, laptops, and electric cars highlighted in media coverage. This new aqueous zinc battery could be the answer to the call for safe battery chemistry while still maintaining the comparable or even higher energy densities of conventional lithium-ion batteries.

A paper based on the research was published in Nature Materials.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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