One of the most important components of daily life are batteries. Anything ranging from household appliances and office equipment, to childrens’ toys require batteries to function properly, and now we can add electric vehicles to the list. The problem is safety, specifically when it comes to lithium-ion batteries (LIB).
LIBs are in almost every piece of electronic equipment we use every day including smartphones, tablets, cameras, e-readers, game controllers, smartwatches and cars. They can also be extremely flammable. LIBs are known to cause chemical fires when damaged in any way, including just by overheating. This poses a significant problem for many users, as well as end-of-life facilities.
According to the International Association of Fire and Rescue Services (CTIF), there’s been a large increase in lithium battery related fires, about five times, over the last six years, and the threat continues to grow. In 2021, an abandoned paper mill in Illinois caught fire, creating a chain reaction of battery explosions where more than 200,000 LIBs were being stored. The ignition led to the evacuation of over 1,000 homes, all from a simple water leak that sparked a single battery ignition. Because of this dire need for safer batteries, a research team in Korea has developed what is hoped to be an alternative to LIBS.
Researchers at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) developed a “stable aqueous zinc-ion battery that uses water as an electrolyte,” according to TechXplore. Together, Professor Soojin Park and Gyujin Song in the Department of Chemistry, and Ph.D. candidate Sangyeop Lee (Division of Advanced Materials Science) employed a “protective polymer layer to prevent electrode corrosion and increase the stability of the aqueous zinc-ion battery.”
The flammable issue was first addressed by the development of aqueous electrolyte batteries, but the zinc-ion batteries are unable to be used due to the inferior reversibility of the zinc anode in aqueous electrolytes. As a solution, the research team at POSTECH used a block copolymer to develop a zinc anode coated with a multifuncional protective layer which is elastic and stretchable. This enables it to endure volume expansion during battery charging and discharging.
The team published their battery research results in Cell Reports Physical Science.