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The United States Navy Creates New Battery That Will Impact Energy Storage

Posted by Tom Denham

Jun 6, 2017 10:37:42 AM

The US Navy is not just building ships; it is also building batteries.  The Navy recently announced it is building new batteries that could solve the exploding rechargeable battery problems in portable electronic devices plus it will also have wide ranging implications for energy storage.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory produced a zinc-based battery that's a safer alternative to the common lithium-ion batteries that had issues with instantaneous combustion. 

Millions of people who purchased cell phones from Samsung were impacted by reports of exploding batteries and people who are e-cigarette users had their devices banned on many commercial airlines.

But those problems were not why the Navy was investigating battery alternatives.  In 2008, a huge battery-produced fire and explosion damaged a small submarine in Pearl Harbor designed for Navy Seals. No seamen were aboard during the blaze, but the incident spurred naval researchers to find a better alternative. With ships and other sea-faring crafts vulnerable because of their isolation on (or under) the water, the Navy has been working for more than a decade to develop a safer option to the unstable lithium-ion battery. 

With ships and the Navy’s other watercraft vulnerable because of their isolation on (or under) the water, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has been working for more than a decade to develop a safer option to the unstable lithium-ion battery. 

"We can now offer an energy-relevant alternative, from drop-in replacements for lithium-ion to new opportunities in portable and wearable power," said Dr. Jeffrey Long.  He is a member of the laboratory’s Advanced Electrochemical Materials group.  

Researchers also believe the batteries will be safer, cheaper, smaller and lighter and will eventually be utilized in the nation’s power grid. Their light weight will be particularly important to electric vehicles plus the new batteries will be 30-50% cheaper that the batteries currently in use.

The discovery takes the standard zinc battery – which is stable, but not rechargeable – and alters its chemistry to allow it to be recharged.

Lithium-ion batteries are problematic because of the organic liquid inside of them, which is flammable if the battery or device gets too hot. A standard alkaline battery, like the AAA in a flashlight, has a much safer non-flammable water-based electrolyte.

The research is complete and the “zinc sponge” technology is ready to be utilized in both military and civilian applications.  A battery company named “EnZinc” worked with the Navy on the project and estimates the first batteries will be on the market by the end of 2019.

The research was recently published in the journal “Science”.

Topics: New Energy Forms