New stable grid-size battery to be developed in South Australia

An Adelaide research team has received funding to develop next-generation grid-size batteries.

The team is looking at an “all temperature aqueous zinc ion” approach, which they say will be safer and will operate at wider temperature ranges than the present go-to battery for grid stabilisation – lithium ion (li-ion) – and existing lead acid batteries.

The Australian Research Council will fund a 3-year program led by postdoc chemical engineer Sailin Liu and her team, with a private firm, IonDrive Technology, to find a replacement for li-ion batteries.

Liu says she expects the aqueous battery will not have the same density, or capacity, as existing li-ion batteries. “But they will be safer, and they can run stably at a temperature range of -40°C to +60°C,” Liu told Cosmos.

Existing stationery batteries operate at temperatures between about -10°C and 40°C.

“Aqueous batteries will use zinc foil as the anode and vanadium oxide or manganese dioxide as the cathode,” says Liu.

An aqueous battery uses a water-based solution as an electrolyte.

“The electrolytes will be hybrid water and core solvents, which are proprietary to IonDrive Technology,” Liu says.

Read more: battery of the future

At present li-ion batteries have about twice the density of Liu’s proposed aqueous battery – around 300Wh/kg compared to 150Wh/kg.

But Li-ion batteries pose safety issues above room temperature due to the high flammability of organic electrolytes. Aqueous electrolytes can mitigate the combustion safety concern, but their wide temperature working ability is poor, at present.

Normally they will freeze below -10°C (due to the freezing of water) and fail above 40°C (due to accelerated side reactions of cathode materials in the aqueous electrolyte). This project aims to extend the working temperature range of aqueous electrolytes, making them suitable for future stationary big battery use.

The grant is under the Early Career Industry Fellowships. Liu studied in China for her Masters degree; received her PhD at Wollongong University and took up the post at the University of Adelaide School of Chemical Engineering a little over 2 years ago.

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