A team of chemists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have developed an improved battery system, which would someday end the need use potentially dangerous lithium-ion batteries. The development also could pave the way for the use of batteries for power supply in more applications.

The three NRL chemists — Debra R. Rollison, Jeffrey W. Long and Joseph F. Parker — came up with a battery that matches lithium ion batteries, without the threat of fire caused by overheating.
“Their batteries reached lithium ion-equivalent performance, in a nonflammable, aqueous-based battery,” NRL said in a press release.

The newly developed battery is capable of “meeting the goal of a robust, energy-sense and safe battery that relies on non-strategic, earth-abundant elements,” the NRL release stated.

The new batteries work by incorporating a three-dimensional zinc “sponge,” which replaces the traditional zinc anode found on lithium ion batteries. The nickel-zinc battery can provide enough energy content and is capable of being recharged, without the inherent safety issues of the batteries it would someday replace.

“The 3-D sponge form factor allows us to reimagine zinc, a well-known battery material, for the 21st century,” said Rollison, the project’s senior scientist and principal investigator.
“The key to realizing recharge able zinc-based batteries lies in controlling the behavior of the zinc during cycling. Electric currents are more uniformly distributed within the sponge, making it physically difficult to form dendrites [crystalline masses].

To prove their new battery works, the team showed that it could work for long periods and produce thousands of short bursts — mimicking the way batteries are used when powering hybrid vehicles.
The battery is ready for use in both military and civilian applications, the team said.

“We can now offer an energy-relevant alternative, from drop-in replacements for lithium-ion to new opportunities in wearable power, in manned and unmanned vehicles,” Long said.