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First zinc-air batteries will hit next year in small form factors

Rechargeable batteries are used in so many different products that we use today – everything from our computers and mobile phones to our cars have batteries inside. One of the major areas of research is in new battery technologies that will increase the run time of electrical devices and make safer batteries.

Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries have been on the market for a long time and are prone to problems. The batteries, for instance, were the cause of massive recall several years ago after they were overheating in notebooks which in turn caused fires. One of the more promising new battery technologies being researched are zinc-air batteries.

These batteries are cheaper and have a significantly larger capacity for storing energy than existing lithium-ion batteries. Physorg reports that the average lithium-ion battery stores only a third of the energy that zinc-air batteries are capable of storing and cost about twice as much as the zinc-air counterpart.

A Swiss company called ReVolt plans to release a zinc-air battery next year. At first, the batteries will be small units that will be used in hearing aids. Later the batteries will come in larger forms for mobile phones and much later, the zinc-air battery will find its way into electric vehicles.

The zinc-air battery was developed by a firm called SINTEF in Norway and ReVolt was formed to market the battery. In a zinc-air battery, oxygen from room air is used to generate current. The air is used as an electrode and the battery contains an electrolyte and a zinc electrode in a casing that is porous and allows air inside. The zinc-air battery is much safer than lithium-ion batteries because there are no volatile materials inside the battery that could possibly catch fire.

The zinc-air battery produces electricity when the air electrode is discharged with the help of catalysts producing hydroxyl ions in the aqueous electrode. The zinc electrode then gets oxidized and releases electrons to form an electric current. When the battery is recharged, the process happens in reverse and oxygen is released into the air electrode.

The challenge for the researchers was to devise a method where the air electrolyte wasn’t deactivated in the recharging cycle to the point where the oxidation reaction slowed or stopped. The slowing or stopping of the oxidation reaction reduced the number of times that the zinc-air battery could be recharged.

Physorg reports that prototypes of the zinc-air battery have been tested through more than a hundred charge and discharge cycles. ReVolt hopes to increase the number of charge and discharge cycles to the 300 to 500 range. That number would make the batteries useful for cell phones and other electronic items that are recharged frequently.

The zinc-air batteries ReVolt is working on are also being developed for future use in electric vehicles. Before that point can be reached the batteries have to reach the point of being able to withstand up to 10,000 charge cycles.

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By PublixE on 10/30/2009 10:21:31 AM , Rating: 1
If they can make it so it can recharge at least 5000 times it would make a very long lasting laptop battery. With the latest in miniaturization of processors and other parts of a laptop they could probably make a laptop that can last a whole day on a single charge.

I guess this solves the "there is only so much lithium in the world" problem.


RE: Wow
By HoundRogerson on 10/30/2009 10:30:14 AM , Rating: 1
Yeah, now we're on to burning through the supply of Zinc.

RE: Wow
By SublimeSimplicity on 10/30/2009 10:49:41 AM , Rating: 3
From the link, but not in the DT article:
The battery could also be repaired, by replacing failed parts such as the air electrode.

That to me makes all the difference in the world, even if they cost the same new and had the same capacity per pound, the fact that they're repairable lowers their cost of ownership significantly.

RE: Wow
By nafhan on 10/30/2009 11:48:54 AM , Rating: 5
Zinc is both more common in the earth's crust and much easier to recover (it's been used in making brass since ancient times).

RE: Wow
By BladeVenom on 10/30/2009 2:12:30 PM , Rating: 2
The bottom line is, zinc is cheap.

RE: Wow
By lightfoot on 10/30/2009 3:11:39 PM , Rating: 3
So cheap in fact that it is used in place of copper in US Pennies.

RE: Wow
By surt on 10/30/2009 12:25:19 PM , Rating: 5
We will not be running through the worldwide supply of zinc any time soon:

RE: Wow
By bbomb on 10/30/2009 2:30:35 PM , Rating: 2
We're human, give us a chance! If there is one thing humans are good at it is burning through any natural resource faster than it can be replenished and not realizing that until it is too late.

RE: Wow
By lightfoot on 10/30/2009 3:13:20 PM , Rating: 5
Unless we are discharging our used zinc into space, we will never run out; it can easily be recycled.

RE: Wow
By dark matter on 11/3/2009 5:05:14 AM , Rating: 2
After all the other guff I have been reading from armchair experts on the chemistry and physics of batteries this was the only worthy comment, and it made me laugh.

Double bonus!

RE: Wow
By yxalitis on 10/30/2009 7:13:12 PM , Rating: 1
Jimmy: Hey, what gives?
Jimmy's Dad: You said you wanted to live in a world without zinc Jimmy. Well now your car has no battery.
Jimmy: But I promised Betty I'd pick her up by 6:00. I better give her a call.
Jimmy's Dad: Sorry Jimmy. Without zinc for the rotary mechanism, there are no telephones.
Jimmy: Dear God! What have I done?
(Jimmy pulls out a gun and points it to his head and fires)
Jimmy's Dad: Think again Jimmy. You see the firing pin in your gun was made out of…yep…zinc.
Jimmy: Come back zinc, Come Back!!

RE: Wow
By AssBall on 10/30/2009 10:53:36 AM , Rating: 2
By the time we run out of lithium we will be ready to start fusing our own supply. It will be a waste product.

RE: Wow
By nafhan on 10/30/2009 2:06:41 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, while looking at stuff about lithium, I noticed that stable lithium isotopes are NOT easy to synthesize via fusion. That's why despite being the third heaviest element, after hydrogen and helium:
It is not until atomic number 36 (krypton) and beyond that chemical elements are found to be universally less common in the cosmos than lithium
(from wiki). Pretty interesting.

RE: Wow
By marvdmartian on 10/30/2009 11:50:08 AM , Rating: 2
Dang, I wonder.....if they used all the hot air that's manufactured in Washington DC, would that make the batteries 4 times the energy?? Maybe 5??? ;)

RE: Wow
By Kibbles on 10/30/2009 5:03:44 PM , Rating: 3
Actually it's the shelf life that kills most lithium batteries. A brand new lithium polymer battery can be discharge-charged about 400 times. Even a properly stored battery will loose about 2% of its max capacity per year.

The worst thing for those batteries is heat, and guess what, your laptop get hot. Then throw in a couple of baking sessions in the car and you get a dead battery in less than a year that's barely had 100 charges.

Most people probably don't even use the laptop without the powercord. If you aren't using the battery, you should store it. Charge it to about 60% charge, put it in a ziplock bag, and put it in the fridge (not the freezer).

RE: Wow
By Jeffk464 on 10/30/2009 10:38:25 PM , Rating: 2
Negative nellys. The more companies working on more solutions the better. It increases the chance that we will reach a really good replacement for gasoline. I say the more the merrier. Of course I pitty the fools who invest a ton of money in the loosing tech.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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