New eco-friendly battery could bring power to low-income countries

The new zinc-lignin battery is stable, as it can be used over 8,000 cycles while maintaining about 80% of its performance. The battery is small but the technology is scalable. Credit: Thor Balkhed.

Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden have developed a new, eco-friendly battery made from zinc and lignin that can be used over 8,000 times.

This affordable battery could help provide electricity to people in low-income countries where power is often unreliable.

Professor Reverant Crispin, from the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University, explains that while solar panels have become cheaper and more popular in these regions, they have a major limitation.

Near the equator, the sun sets around 6 pm, leaving homes and businesses without power for the rest of the night.

This new battery could help store solar energy for use after dark, even though it doesn’t perform as well as expensive lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

The battery is made from two cheap and environmentally friendly materials: zinc and lignin. In terms of energy storage, it is similar to lead-acid batteries but without the toxic lead.

Impressively, the new battery can be charged and used over 8,000 times while maintaining about 80% of its original performance.

It also holds a charge for about a week, which is much longer than other zinc-based batteries that lose power in just a few hours.

While zinc-based batteries are already available, they are usually non-rechargeable. The researchers believe that their rechargeable zinc-lignin battery could eventually replace some Li-ion batteries.

Li-ion batteries are useful but can be dangerous if not handled correctly, as they can explode and are hard to recycle. They also have environmental and ethical issues related to the extraction of certain elements like cobalt.

One of the main issues with zinc batteries has been their poor durability. Zinc reacts with water in the battery’s electrolyte solution, producing hydrogen gas and causing the zinc to grow dendrites, which can damage the battery.

The Linköping team solved this problem by using a substance called potassium polyacrylate based water-in-polymer salt electrolyte (WiPSE). This stabilizes the zinc and greatly improves the battery’s durability.

Ziyauddin Khan, a researcher at Linköping University, highlights that both zinc and lignin are very cheap and easy to recycle. The cost per use of this new battery is much lower than that of Li-ion batteries.

Although the current batteries are small, the researchers believe they can scale up production to create larger batteries, similar in size to car batteries.

Professor Crispin emphasizes the importance of helping low-income countries adopt sustainable technology.

He believes that Sweden, as an innovative country, has a duty to assist other nations in avoiding the mistakes made in the past.

By starting with green technology, these countries can build a sustainable infrastructure and avoid contributing to climate change.