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Researchers develop long-lasting battery that could revolutionize clean energy in developing countries: ‘An extremely cheap battery compared to lithium-ion’

In World
June 11, 2024

A newly developed battery could keep the lights on in low-income countries with minimal cost, helping the world meet pollution reduction goals without sacrificing modern comfort.

Tech Xplore reported that researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University created a modest but effective battery that can be used more than 8,000 times without dipping below 80% of its performance capabilities.

To do this, they used zinc and lignin. The combination resulted in a battery with a similar energy density to lead-acid products without the harmful toxins. Unlike other zinc-based batteries, which lose their charge in just hours, the zinc-lignin product can last for around one week.

Linköping University professor of organic electronics Reverant Crispin believes the technology could be a crucial tool as developing countries invest in their infrastructure, ensuring clean energy is reliably available.

Solar panels have become relatively inexpensive, and many people in low-income countries have adopted them,” Crispin said. “However, near the equator, the sun sets at around 6 p.m., leaving households and businesses without electricity. The hope is that this battery technology … will eventually offer a solution for these situations.”

One benefit to using zinc and lignin is their affordable price.

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“Both zinc and lignin are super cheap, and the battery is easily recyclable. And if you calculate the cost per usage cycle, it becomes an extremely cheap battery compared to lithium-ion batteries,” said Ziyauddin Khan, who works as a researcher at the university’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics.

Lithium-ion batteries are currently used to power most electric vehicles, a more planet- and lung-friendly mode of transportation because of the lack of tailpipe pollution. They are also used for renewable energy storage, something that is crucial as the world phases out dirty fuels.

However, as detailed by the U.S. Department of Energy, these batteries are generally more expensive, and there’s the risk of very rare but serious fires. Khan also pointed to human rights concerns surrounding the extraction of cobalt, a metal used in most lithium-ion batteries and primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Therefore, our sustainable battery offers a promising alternative where energy density is not critical,” Khan explained to Tech Xplore.

A variety of zinc-based batteries have been around for some time, but researchers are still working to unleash their full potential.

For example, zinc-air batteries have been around for more than 100 years, and researchers in Japan just recently discovered a way to improve their stability and durability. This potentially creates a path to more environmentally friendly EV batteries, though mining for the materials in lithium-ion batteries is already less polluting than harvesting dirty fuels.

As Tech Xplore noted, most zinc-based batteries are not rechargeable, and they have “poor durability” because of the way the zinc reacts with water in traditional electrolyte solutions.

To solve this, the team at Linköping used a substance called “potassium polyacrylate-based water-in-polymer salt electrolyte” — meant to limit reactions.

In the future, researchers believe they can build zinc-lignin batteries that are similar in size to car batteries currently on the market, though manufacturing them for wide-scale use would require a new company partnership.

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