Bruno Marin, ZABAT Project “Zinc-Air batteries hold immense potential for revolutionizing the energy”


1. Which institution do you represent?
The institution I represent is Leitat. Leitat is a technological center of reference at the state and European level in the management of technologies, expert in applied research, technical services and management of technological and innovation initiatives.
Leitat provides social, industrial, economic and sustainable value, offering integral solutions in multiple sectors and areas: development of new materials, eco-sustainable production, occupational health prevention systems, waste recovery and use of natural resources, interconnectivity and digitalization of the industry, green energy and maximization of energy efficiency.
Leitat is recognized by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and is one of the main participating entities in the Horizon2020 and Horizon Europe program of the European Union.

2. Which are the tasks of your institution in the project?
Within this project, Leitat is serving as the project coordinator, overseeing the development of all the different components that will be implemented in the final prototype. Leitat is actively contributing in two key areas: zinc electrode development and recycling, and zinc-air battery (ZAB) validation. Importantly, we prioritize incorporating life cycle assessment and circularity principles throughout the project.

3. What do you think are the most important challenges facing the ZABAT project?
Zinc-Air (Zn-Air) batteries hold immense potential for revolutionizing the energy landscape with their high energy density and lower costs compared to other options. However, widespread adoption faces several significant hurdles. Each component within these batteries presents unique challenges that researchers within the ZABAT project must collaboratively address.
One critical challenge is dendrite growth on the anode. These finger-like protrusions can pierce through the separator, leading to safety concerns and drastically reducing the battery’s lifespan. Additionally, the cathode surface can become blocked by carbonate formation, leading to a gradual loss of battery capacity over time. Finally, the inherent complexity of the entire system, integrating all these components into a reliable and functional unit, poses another significant hurdle.
Therefore, the ZABAT project’s primary challenge lies in developing a unified and functional prototype that successfully addresses these individual component challenges. Researchers within the project need to find solutions to prevent dendrite growth, mitigate carbonate formation, and seamlessly integrate all components into a robust and efficient system. Addressing these challenges is crucial for unlocking the full potential of Zinc-Air batteries and paving the way for their widespread adoption.

4. What do you think is the most important thing that has been achieved so far in the ZABAT project?
Determining the “most important” thing depends on individual priorities and perspectives, however, if I had to highlight relevant aspects for the consortium the general ones would be:
Development of practical ZAB technology: Even if the advantages are proven in principle, translating them into a practical and commercially viable technology is crucial.
From primary to secondary batteries: Alkaline batteries have been available to consumers for over 50 years, but their function was to power small devices until they ran out of power and were then discarded. The transition of alkaline batteries to rechargeable technology will allow the use of fewer materials in their production while increasing their lifespan.
Including recycling as a key topic: Excessive use of certain types of materials can lead to material shortages. The implementation of sustainable recycling processes lays the foundations for a new model of production and consumption in which the value of products, materials and resources is retained in the economy for as long as possible, in which the generation of waste is minimised and those that cannot be avoided are used to the greatest possible extent.z

5. How is the development of your task going?
Leitat is currently working on the development of new 3D Zinc electrodes. The idea is to start from a 3D matrix on which Zinc is deposited in a controlled way. For the moment it is progressing promisingly, however securing the final materials for the prototype is our top priority over the next months. We are confident in achieving this goal and remain on track for completing the prototype by the end of the year.

6. What difficulties are you encountering in the development of the material for ZABAT?
Despite ongoing research efforts, the development of reliable and long-lasting rechargeable zinc-air batteries (ZABs) remains a significant hurdle. Current iterations exhibit limitations in cycle life and suffer from performance degradation over time. Additionally, the formation of zinc dendrites during charging presents a challenge, as these structures can damage the electrode and compromise battery function. Addressing these issues effectively is critical for the widespread implementation of ZABs as a viable large-scale energy storage solution.
Fortunately, ongoing research and development hold considerable promise for overcoming these limitations. Exploration of novel materials, optimized electrolytes, and innovative electrode designs offers encouraging avenues for improvement. Addressing the challenges of rechargeability and dendrite formation will unlock the full potential of ZABs as a sustainable and high-performance energy storage solution, contributing significantly to the advancements in the field of clean energy technologies.

7. How are zinc-air batteries expected to contribute to the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly economy?
To tackle this environmental issue, scientists are looking for alternatives that are environmentally friendly and easily accessible in the Earth’s crust. One of these alternatives is zinc, an abundant metal that has shown promising electrochemical results and can be consider as a replacement for lithium. Generally speaking, Zinc-batteries are more eco-friendly than Lithium-batteries because zinc is easier to recycle and less toxic than lithium.

8. How are the safety challenges associated with the use of zinc-air batteries being addressed?
The safety challenges associated with the use of zinc-air batteries are being addressed through various research and development efforts. When we think of the electrolyte in mature storage systems such as lithium batteries, they are formulated from easily flammable organic materials. In the case of zinc batteries, electrolytes of an aqueous nature are used to mitigate the hazards associated with the thermal runaway and spontaneous fire. The safety can be also enhanced by improving the enclosure design of the cell, designing robust and secure enclosures for zinc-air batteries to mitigate the risk of exposure to external factors and prevent potential safety hazards. These efforts, along with ongoing advancements in battery technology, aim to address safety concerns and enhance the overall reliability of zinc-air batteries for various applications.

9. What is the potential of zinc-air batteries for use in large-scale energy storage applications, such as in the grid?
Zinc-air batteries (ZABs) have the potential to revolutionize large-scale energy storage due to several promising features. Firstly because of its High Theoretical Energy Density, ZABs boast a theoretical energy density exceeding current market available batteries. This translates to potentially smaller and lighter storage systems for the same amount of energy. Regarding its scalability, ZABs have a modular design, allowing them to be easily scaled to fit various storage needs, from small devices to entire power grids. Add to this the low cost and toxicity of the materials, as well as their safety advantages, and zinc air batteries are an ideal candidate for grid applications.