A discovery widely believed to be the world's first functional battery used a metallic form of the elemental mineral zinc as an anode, and now researchers at the University of Maryland have drawn upon that ancient technology to create a new type of battery that's safe by nature, and has power and longevity rivaling that of the traditional lithium-ion batteries used in most gadgets today. The battery in question uses metallic zinc for the anode, and a water solution with dissolved salts, including zinc, as the electrolyte. This means that the battery can store and move energy with almost no risk of thermal runaway, sudden explosion, corrosive leakage, or many of the other problems facing modern battery technology.
The battery technology is being developed by the University of Maryland with help from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The new battery is based on a type of water-based battery already in experimental development. Whereas that battery uses water as the primary means of storage and locomotion for electricity, this new battery uses metallic zinc that's whole and cohesive as the anode, along with dissolved zinc salts in the water to boost the amount of energy that can be stored. The water-based electrolyte used in these batteries is not only safe, but it also sidesteps key longevity issues facing current zinc-based battery solutions.
According to researchers, this new battery type could be used in consumer electronics as a safer alternative to lithium-ion batteries in the future, but the bigger implication is in extreme condition operation and mission-critical use cases, such as aerospace and military uses. Because the battery is made from water and not prone to thermal runaway or corrosive interference, it will be hardier than lithium-ion batteries, last longer on a charge and live longer compared to current zinc batteries, and should any serious breach or failure happen, the electricity held in the battery will be discharged and the inert materials rendered harmless. In comparison, lithium-ion batteries will almost certainly explode violently when mishandled, and other types of experimental batteries often either contain toxic and corrosive materials, or have a short shelf life due to factors like evaporation, air encroachment over time, and poor cycle life.