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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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RE: Hybrid Battery Approach Viable?
By rcc on 10/30/2009 11:23:36 AM , Rating: 2
If the Zinc-Air battery is cheaper and lasts 3 times a long, and is repairable, then where is the advantage to combining them with Lithium-Ions???? Population control??


RE: Hybrid Battery Approach Viable?
By Cogman on 10/30/2009 12:00:34 PM , Rating: 3
It depends on what the discharge/recharge rate of the zinc ion battery is. We know that Li-ion batteries have a fairly small internal resistance which translates into quick discharge/recharge times (Think, regenerative breaking). But if the Zinc Ion batteries don't, then it would make sense to use them for long range power and the Li-Ion batteries for the short range.

One other thing I would like to know is at what rate do these batteries self-discharge. Hopefully it is about as good as Lion, because having to recharge something if you use it or not kind of sucks.

Personally I think this is great news for the electric car. This is the exact type of battery system that needed to come into play. My biggest complaint about electric cars was the fact that their range was about 100 miles. This could potentially boost that range to the 300+ range which would be about where I need it to be to consider an electric car.


RE: Hybrid Battery Approach Viable?
By Shig on 10/30/2009 6:19:17 PM , Rating: 2
Limited # of recharges...


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