Lithium-ion batteries may be impressive, but some people feel they can do better – with zinc. Power Air, a startup from Livermore, CA, is designing zinc oxide fuel cells. In their fuel cells, zinc is dissolved in an electrolyte solution, and exposure to the air causes zinc oxide to form, releasing electrons and generating electricity. In theory, the zinc oxide can be collected, reduced back to zinc metal and fed back into the cycle.
Zinc air batteries are already used in hearing aids, though companies like Power Air hope to build batteries more suited for power and charging mobile electronic devices. Toyota is even researching ways to use zinc-air cells in electric vehicles, though they have put a 2020 timeline on the project, which means we won’t be seeing it any time soon.
As far as the chemistry goes, using zinc is no different than any other fuel cell, or regular battery for that matter (zinc, in fact, is a major component of most alkaline batteries). So what’s so special about it? It has two big advantages over something like lithium. Firstly, it is abundant and cheap, whereas there are fears about the supply of lithium. Secondly, it is safe and recyclable. It also has a relatively high energy density (energy contained per unit of volume).
Of course, it has its drawbacks. How would the zinc actually get recycled? Would battery owners have to recycle it themselves? How much energy would be going into reducing the zinc metal? And how does it make sense to make a car battery out of zinc? Zinc is far heavier than lithium, and delivers far fewer watts per pound… not ideal for a car.
Guess we’ll leave it to Power Air to show us that a zinc economy is feasible.
Via CNET Green Tech news
Image vie Power Air
written by Rob Stanhope, November 26, 2008
written by Rob Stanhope, November 27, 2008
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