‘Water batteries’ could overcome major danger of traditional power, scientists say

Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world and power everything from phones to cars – but are volatile and occasionally explode

Andrew Griffin
Monday 26 February 2024 04:05 GMT
(AFP via Getty Images)

New “water batteries” could help overcome the dangers posed by their traditional counterparts, scientists say.

Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world, allowing for everything from electric cars to long-lasting and reliable mobile phones. But they are also volatile, because of the materials inside, and occasionally catch fire or explode.

Now researchers say they have developed “aqueous metal-ion batteries – or we can call them water batteries”.

They use water to replace the organic electrolytes that currently allow electric current to flow between the positive and negative terminals. That makes them safer and also means they can be taken apart and reused or recycled at the end of their life.

The way they are designed also makes them relatively easy to produce, their creators said.

“We use materials such as magnesium and zinc that are abundant in nature, inexpensive and less toxic than alternatives used in other kinds of batteries, which helps to lower manufacturing costs and reduces risks to human health and the environment,” said Tianyi Ma, from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

New research has allowed scientists to make their batteries last much longer – roughly in line with commercial lithium-ion batteries. That will help the researchers close the performance gap with today’s technology and might make them ready for market.

“Our batteries now last significantly longer – comparable to the commercial lithium-ion batteries in the market – making them ideal for high-speed and intensive use in real-world applications,” said Professor Ma.

“With impressive capacity and extended lifespan, we’ve not only advanced battery technology but also successfully integrated our design with solar panels, showcasing efficient and stable renewable energy storage.”

The batteries could be used for big projects, such grid storage and integration with renewable energy, avoiding the danger of large fires. But it could also allow for smaller applications.

“As our technology advances, other kinds of smaller-scale energy storage applications such as powering people’s homes and entertainment devices could become a reality,” said Professor Ma.

The work is described in a new paper, ‘Synergy of dendrites-impeded atomic clusters dissociation and side-reactions suppressed inert interface protection for ultrastable Zn anode’, published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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