A new development coming out of the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) could mean safer and more efficient battery options for a wide range of applications. In an effort to solve the major drawback with lithium-ion batteries—specifically their tendency to start fires.

The NRL has found a way to make zinc-based batteries long lasting, rechargeable, and far less likely to pose a fire hazard. Could this breakthrough change the way we power a wide range of devices?

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Safe But Single-Use
Zinc batteries are already widely available as single-use disposable batteries. While there is comparatively little hazard in this choice of fuel cell, they don’t recharge well due to formation of dendrites.

These tiny zinc spheres build up as the battery is charged and discharged. They eventually cause short-circuiting and battery failure. NRL scientists have recently found a workaround by reconstituting zinc into a sponge-like electrode.

The new structure of the zinc allows for more uniform distribution of currents, which inhibits the buildup of dendrites.

Image Source: Wikimedia 

Disabling Dendrite Formation
The newly designed zinc batteries, or Ni-3D ZN cells, can be recharged for a lifecycle level that’s competitive with lithium-ion batteries. Zinc dendrites do not build up until after 100 charge and discharge cycles.

This was further improved through a separate design that discharges and recharges instantly, like the cells used in hybrid vehicles. The resulting battery allowed for 50,000 cycles without any dendrite formation.

Promise For A Range Of Products
The findings through this experiment show a great deal of promise for powerful, rechargeable, and affordable batteries that are also safer to use in a wide range of applications, including critical devices used in industrial, defense, and aerospace applications, in addition to a range of consumer and household products.

To speed the development of zinc-based rechargeables, the NRL developed technology has been licensed to EnZinc Inc., a California based startup that’s working on new battery options for hybrid cars, electronic bikes, and wearables.

What are your thoughts on zinc rechargeable batteries and the impact they could have on electronics? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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