An environmentally friendly, high-performance prototype of a rechargeable zinc-air battery has been developed by researchers at the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Debrecen. The new type of energy storage uses cellulose-based, biodegradable materials as additives and membranes, and the development is already in the scale-up phase.
The university’s Department of Applied Chemistry has been researching the usability of renewable energy and its storage possibilities for a long time. The limited capacity of today’s lithium batteries and the fact that they are difficult to recycle limit further development. The latter makes it difficult to integrate them into the circular economy, limiting their long-term economic and environmental goals, they wrote in a statement.
A lot of research is being done to overcome these difficulties in lithium-based systems and to replace lithium with other metals.
“For example, we are developing a zinc anode, which is a special kind of zinc-air battery, because in addition to zinc as an anode, we also extract oxygen from the air in the cathode process,” Tibor Nagy, associate professor at the research department noted.
Another advantage of the system is that it has a high theoretical capacity, making it one of the most promising alternatives to lithium-based batteries,
An additional benefit is that no catalyst was used, thus no heavy metals are present in the prototype. Energy storage on the cathode side is achieved by using oxygen extracted from the air, explained Nagy.
The researcher added that the prototype operates in a lower working voltage range compared to conventional zinc-air systems, allowing the battery to work under much gentler conditions. This has resulted in a more stable operation, with no harmful processes that reduce capacity and lifetime. The system is easy to produce, simple, cheap, and easy to recycle, with no problematic components, he stressed.
The prototype has been completed and now the scaling-up phase is focusing on how to increase its performance while maintaining its positive features.
The details and results of the research have been published in the Journal of Energy Storage. Nagy was awarded the Publication Prize of the Count István Tisza Foundation for the University of Debrecen for his study.