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A rechargeable zinc-air battery. Source: University of Sydney

An advancement made by an international team of engineers could help foster adoption of zinc-air batteries.

Scientists from the University of Sydney and Nanyang Technological University crafted a technique that can bypass a charging issue associated with these power sources.

Zinc-air batteries can be found in certain film cameras and railway signal devices, but one factor that has hindered widespread use is that there is a lack of electro-catalysts that can successfully reduce and generate oxygen during the typical charging and discharging process.

The research team therefore devised a three-step process that can create bifunctional oxygen electro-catalysts for building zinc-air batteries from scratch.

Here’s how the process works.

Engineers produce these catalysts through the simultaneous control of the composition, size, and crystallinity of metal oxides of iron, cobalt, nickel, and other earth-abundant elements.

“Up until now, rechargeable zinc-air batteries have been made with expensive precious metal catalysts, such as platinum and iridium oxide. In contrast, our method produces a family of new high-performance and low-cost catalysts,” said Professor Yuan Chen, the lead author and a member of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies.

Test trials of the batteries developed through this process demonstrated excellent ability to recharge, with a  less than a 10 percent efficacy drop over 60 discharging/charging cycles of 120 hours, according to the announcement.

Another favorable aspect of this technology is that zinc-air batteries compared to their lithium-powered brethren possess stronger charging and storage capabilities and are also safer and more environmentally friendly.

“We are solving fundamental technological challenges to realize more sustainable metal-air batteries for our society,” elaborated Professor Chen.

Findings from this experiment were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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