200 Years Later, Silver-Zinc Energy Storage Is Having Its Moment
The race for the next big thing in energy storage suddenly got a lot smaller, slimmer, lighter, stretchier, and twistier, now that researchers have solved some kinks in silver-zinc technology. The new battery is not quite ready to slide into an electric vehicle, but it does pave the way for a new generation of lighter, more efficient electronic gear, and better prospects for recycling, too.
A New Era In Energy Storage Was Born 200 Years Ago
According to our friends over at NASA, the silver-zinc energy storage combo first came on the scene 200 years ago, give or take a few. Technology obstacles still linger, but the allure of high energy density, compact size, and low weight provide ample motivation for researchers to keep powering through the problems.
The silver-zinc combo offers “more energy per ounce than any other battery couple,” NASA enthused in a 2016 technology recap, while noting that early versions of the battery were dogged by significant issues.
“The biggest challenge for silver-zinc batteries was that their electrodes — the cell’s negative and positive electrical conductors — were soluble and deteriorated quickly,” NASA explains. “The answer to this challenge, developed first in the late 1920s by professor Henri André and then advanced by the U.S. military in World War II, was a membrane to separate the two electrodes.”
That same 100-year-old technology is still used in some applications by the Department of Defense, including submarines and torpedoes. However, that applies only to disposable batteries. The electrode problem still persisted in relation to rechargeable energy storage devices, meaning that performance would fall off a cliff after just a few charging cycles.